A group representing Irish businesses has said that how the return to work is managed is best left "at the level of the business and the individuals involved" once the advice is clarified by Government.

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said that current advice allows for a staggered and phased return to the workplace and any change to that needs to be communicated by the Government.

He said that unless the situation is very grave, there is no need for all workers to continue to work from home.

Risk assessments do need to continue along with other Covid-19 protocols, regardless of what happens on 22 October, he added.

Mr McCoy said there is a role for antigen testing in the initial return to work, saying "it is remarkable that we haven't used it more in our society".

It is costly, he said, but in order to give a level of security and comfort to employees coming back to the workplace, antigen testing has a role to play.

Mr McCoy said that mixed-messaging about the return to work seemed to be driven by concerns about the pressure on the hospital system.

Meanwhile, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said it supports the advice from the Deputy CMO around remote working.

On Friday, Dr Ronan Glynn advised people to work from home where possible as Ireland moves into the autumn and winter period.

In a video on Twitter, he said that with "vast parts of society open" people are now mixing and interacting on a scale "far greater than at any point in the pandemic to date".

He said this gives viruses such as Covid-19 and the flu a chance to circulate, and people should continue to wash their hands and not meet up with other people if they have any symptoms.

In a statement, ICTU General Secretary Patricia King said congress supports the Deputy CMO in "his urging of everyone who can work from home to do so.

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"We have to continue to be cautious given the levels of transmission and hospitalisation and the unremitting strain on our health workers.

"The social partners met earlier this week to discuss the Return to Work Safely protocol, with Dr Glynn in attendance.

"A further meeting of the Labour, Employer, Economic Forum is scheduled for next week, following the NPHET meeting."

ICTU has said that the return to workplaces has to be guided by public health advice and it is 'not acceptable that employers have a free-for-all approach' to rules around a phased return.

Ms King told the News at One that working from home has not resulted in reduced productivity and that "good strong pubic health advice" is needed on the issue.

She said that employers "have to adhere to public health guidance and we expect the Government to take account of the public health advice they get and issue advice accordingly".

Ms King said that Ireland has an exhausted healthcare workforce who have had 21 months of incessant activity.

"It is unthinkable that we would go into a place where we offer a free-for-all decision making process without adherence to public health advice, it's just unthinkable," she added.

She said that ICTU's primary concern is that workers are kept safe.

"I have no doubt NPHET will do that," she said and that Government will take account of these factors also.

Ms King said that workplaces need to be kept as safe as possible and that good ventilation is needed in settings whether it is a nightclub or an office, along with mask wearing and adhering to the rule of staying at home if sick and keeping your distance and regular sanitation.

She said that antigen testing could "of course play a part in keeping people safe," although she said employers are not keen to pay for these tests.