UK Swine Flu May Cost £1.5 Billion a Day

A full-blown swine flu pandemic hitting the UK could see one in four employees forced to stay home at a cost of 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) each day, new research suggests.

A quarter of UK employees could be off work as a result of a widespread outbreak, the UK Department of Health warned in its public documents designed to help plan for a pandemic.

The Federation of Small Businesses has calculated that this could cost the UK economy severely, just as it struggles to recover from a deep global recession.

If people were to work on a bank holiday, the UK economy would be 6 billion pounds richer in that day, Stephen Alambritis, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses, told

“If we take that and say that people are genuinely away from work as a result of swine flu … a quarter of the workforce staying at home and that’s a cost of 1.5 billion pounds to the UK economy per day,” he said.

According to plans from the Department of Health, businesses should brace for the widespread sick-days and people working from home in the case of a full-blown pandemic.

Such a blow would come at a tough time for the UK economy and hamper government efforts to stimulate the stalling economy with rock-bottom interest rates and quantitative easing.

More Affected than the Sick

The number of people affected by the virus would be far more than those with swine flu, Alambritis pointed out. Friends and family caring for the victims could be off work, plus people scared they will contract the flu if they come in, he said.

Travel could also be severely disrupted by absent transport employees, meaning some healthy people may not be able to get in, he added.

Riders on the subway in Mexico City
Riders on the subway in Mexico City

Whether infected or not, people staying home from work will drag on the economy in various ways. Even not buying a paper on the way to work would have an impact, Alambritis said.

Meanwhile, contingency plans to allow workers to log on from home could crash the creaking digital infrastructure in the UK, Lyndon Bird, international technical director at Business Continuity Institute, told CNBC.

“The reality is, I think there’s a lot of naivety about the possibility for home working,” Bird said.

Bird suggests stress-testing all contingency plans on a full scale before they are actually needed in the case of an emergency like a swine flu pandemic.