Covid-19: TechUK urges government to tweak self-isolation policy for critical datacentre workers

TechUK wants the government to consider allowing data center operators to run their own “test and release” system so staff told to self-isolate by the NHS Track and Trace service can get back to work faster. if they test negative on Covid-19.

The proposal stems from concerns raised by the tech trade body and its members that the government’s current self-isolation policy for critical workers, covering digital infrastructure and data center personnel, is too inflexible and burdensome.

In a positioning statement, TechUK outlined the policy as “impractical” and said it “threatens to undermine” the resilience of the UK’s digital infrastructure by exacerbating the coronavirus-related staff shortage that many data center operators are already grappling with.

“The government has identified critical sectors eligible for a limited exemption from the self-isolation obligation, allowing organizations so designated to allow fully vaccinated personnel to return to the workplace after a negative test. However, a very high bar has been set for both the eligibility criteria and the process, ”said TechUK.

“Digital infrastructure is among those eligible, this list does not grant pre-exemption. Concessions are awarded on a case-by-case basis, and formal government approval is required for each individual before returning to work. “

Under the terms of the critical worker self-isolation policy, published by the Department of Health and Social Assistance on July 23, 2021, a limited number of named individuals can return to work before the end of their 10-day self-isolation period if they are vaccinated twice and have written permission from the Department of Culture, Media, Digital Media and Sport (DCMS) to do so. .

These individuals should be those whose absence from work may result in a “loss or compromise” of the infrastructure in question, resulting in a “significant detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or provision of essential services” or have a significant impact “On national security, national defense or the functioning of the state,” the DHSC policy document read.

“The process is exceptional for these specific circumstances. It is not intended to avoid all the interruptions in services that will result from the need for people to isolate themselves, ”he added.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Emma Fryer, associate director of data centers at TechUK, said the policy has not been well received by operators managing understaffed sites because of the NHS Track and Tracking app.

“The data center community is not happy about this, and what seems particularly whimsical is that the government has suddenly decided to set a very high bar to allow people to be released from the self-isolation requirement after Track and Trace makes them ping, “she said.

Throughout the pandemic, data center operators have proven adept at executing strict infection control protocols that have served to keep their staff safe and ensure business continuity, before tests and vaccines against the virus were widely available, he said.

Data center operators have proven themselves up to the job and should be allowed to run their own “test and publish” protocols, he added.

“Over the last 18 months, we have had two waves of very serious infections, and the operators managed it from an infection control perspective, without having any visibility of who could and who could not have been exposed to the virus, with great success.” . Fryer continued.

“And now we have that extra information [through the app] about who might have been exposed, and the operators are not allowed to handle the situation themselves, and that seems completely contradictory. “

This policy will remain in effect until August 16, 2021, the DHSC has confirmed, after which fully vaccinated people will be exempt from having to isolate themselves if the NHS Trace and Trace service informs them that they have come into close contact with someone. you have performed the test. positive for coronavirus.

The introduction of the policy comes at a time when several sectors, including hospitality, retail and transportation, are reporting staff shortages, with large numbers of their workers being told to self-isolate themselves.

This increase in the number of people being told to self-isolate is due to rising infection rates in the UK and a loosening of restrictions that previously required social distancing and wearing masks in public places to stop the spread of the virus.

TechUK successfully lobbied for data infrastructure workers, including data center employees, to gain key worker status during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in spring 2020.

The positioning statement also recognizes the “strong support” that DCMS has provided to the data center industry during the pandemic to ensure that the views of digital infrastructure workers are taken into account in government policies on coronavirus.

Fryer echoed this sentiment, saying he hopes the government will amend the policy to account for the fact that the data center community is well informed about what needs to be done to keep its sites safe and operational.

“The government is so pro digital infrastructure and has shown that it understands the importance of digital services in terms of the functioning of the economy, but then it will not protect the sector or allow it to protect itself and its ability to function, and that just doesn’t seem right, ”he added.

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