Heathrow Airport has had a subway link for decades. When the Elizabeth line’s next phase is opened in the fall, passengers will be able to travel from Heathrow to the banks at Canary Wharf in East London in 40 minutes; that is a prime selling point for a city desperate to hold on to its status as financial mecca after Brexit. All told, the line has 10 entirely new stations, 42 miles of tunnels and crosses under the Thames three times.

“We’re jealous, it’s fair to say,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy director for Riders Alliance, a transportation advocacy group in New York. “Imagining a new, full-length underground line here is not something anyone is doing. The Second Avenue subway, which people have been talking about for 100 years, has three stations.”

To be fair, Transport for London is not without its problems. It has shelved plans to build a north-south counterpart to the Elizabeth line, not to mention an extension to the Bakerloo tube line, because of a lack of funding. Still reeling from a near-total loss of riders during pandemic lockdowns, the system faces many of the same financial woes as New York’s subway.

Though ridership has recovered from a nadir of 5 percent, it is still at only 70 percent of prepandemic levels. Transport for London is also heavily dependent on ticket fares to cover its costs, more so than the New York subway, which gets state subsidies, as well as funds from bridge and tunnel tolls.

“My other obsession is sorting out the finances,” Mr. Byford said. “One way is to wean us away from dependence on fares.”

He is somewhat vague about how to do that, and it is clear that Transport for London will depend on additional government handouts to get back on sound financial footing. That is why the opening of the Elizabeth line is so important to London: It makes a powerful case for public transportation at a time when people are questioning how many workers will ever return to their offices.

Mr. Byford lays out the case with the practiced cadence of a stump speech. The new line will increase the capacity of the system by 10 percent. Its spacious coaches are well suited to a world in which people are used to social distancing. It will revitalize economically blighted towns east of the city, while making central London accessible to people who live in far-flung towns to the east and west.

While Mr. Byford does not expect ridership ever to return completely, he thinks 90 percent is attainable. If office buildings remain underpopulated, London could develop like Paris, with more residential neighborhoods downtown. (The Elizabeth line bears a distinct resemblance to the high-speed RER system in Paris.) The line, he says, is an insurance policy against the “siren voices of doom” about Brexit.

At times, Mr. Byford slips perilously close to a real estate agent’s patter. “These super-high-tech stations simply ooze quality,” he said. But emerging from Liverpool Street, with its spectacular, rippling, pinstriped ceiling, it is hard to argue with his basic assertion: “This is a game changer.”

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Bosses Have a New Headache: How Long Should Sick Workers Isolate?

Barbara Sibley’s four New York restaurants had already weathered the city’s initial Covid-19 wave, the prevaccine surge last winter and this summer’s Delta spike when last weekend it finally happened: Fearing an outbreak and struggling with staffing after one of her workers got sick with Covid, she temporarily shut down one of her locations.

That was only the start of Ms. Sibley’s worries. She also had to weigh how long the employee, who was fully vaccinated, should isolate before returning to the job. And the messaging from public health experts was not clear-cut.

In the early days of the pandemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that most people who tested positive for the coronavirus isolate for 14 days. It later reduced its recommended isolation period to 10 days. But these policies were based on data from unvaccinated individuals and were implemented before the widespread availability of rapid tests. An increasing number of health and policy professionals now suggest that vaccinated people can end their isolation after five to seven days, so long as they are not symptomatic and they test negative.

On Thursday, the C.D.C. reduced, in some circumstances, the number of days it recommends that health care workers who test positive for the coronavirus isolate themselves, but it did not address other businesses.

said on Friday that fully vaccinated critical workers could return to work five days after testing positive, so long as they have no symptoms or their symptoms are resolving and they have had no fever for 72 hours. Those workers will also have to wear a mask, she said.

Omicron has intensified staffing shortages across industries, and the spike in cases has disrupted travel during the holidays, stranding thousands of customers and underscoring the economic toll of employees needing to isolate. Already, some economists are warning about the potential impact that shutdowns can have on consumer spending.

Delta Air Lines asked the C.D.C. on Tuesday to cut isolation time to five days for fully vaccinated people, warning that the current 10-day period may “significantly impact” operations. It was followed by JetBlue and Airlines for America, a trade group that represents eight airlines.

eliminated weekly testing for vaccinated players who are asymptomatic, with its chief medical officer saying the pandemic had reached a stage in which it’s unnecessary for vaccinated players to sit out if they feel healthy.

canceled performances through Christmas. CityMD, the privately owned urgent care clinic, temporarily shut 19 sites in New York and New Jersey because of staffing shortages. At least a dozen New York restaurants have temporarily closed in response to positive tests.

“I think lots of companies are looking at a lot of disruption in the next month and trying to put in policies right now, because they know their employees are going to get infected in very high numbers,” said Dr. Jha.

The United States might take direction from policy shifts abroad. Britain said on Wednesday that it was reducing to seven from 10 the days that people must isolate after showing Covid-19 symptoms.

After the British government lifted nearly all its pandemic restrictions in July, hundreds of thousands of workers were pinged by the National Health Service’s track-and-trace app and told to isolate because they had been exposed to the coronavirus. Businesses complained of being short-staffed, and economists said the “pingdemic” may have slowed economic growth in July.

In the United States, new tools to help manage through the pandemic are on the way.

The Food and Drug Administration this week authorized two pills to treat Covid, from Pfizer and Merck. Those treatments have been shown to stave off severe disease and have potential to reduce transmission of the virus, though supply of both pills, especially Pfizer’s, will be limited in the next few months.

President Biden said on Tuesday that he planned to invoke the Defense Production Act to buy and give away 500 million rapid antigen tests, a crucial tool in detecting transmissibility, though those tests will not be available for weeks or longer.

If a combination of the antiviral pills and rapid tests is able to get individuals back to work faster, “that’s a big economic point,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research.

Molly Moon Neitzel, who owns an ice cream business in Seattle with just over 100 employees, said she had kept guidelines for isolation conservative.

“I’m on the side of protecting people over getting them back to work right now,” she said, adding that if it were summer and her business were busier, she might consider a shorter isolation period. “It’s the slowest time of the year for an ice cream company, so that is in my favor.”

Some public health experts worry that if the C.D.C. shortens its guidelines on isolating, employers could pressure workers to get back before they’re fully recovered.

“What I don’t want to see happen is for this to be used as an excuse to force people to come back while they are unwell,” Dr. Ranney of Brown said.

And even with clearer guidelines, putting policies in place can be tricky. While some experts suggest different isolation rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, some companies do not yet have a system for tracking which of their workers have gotten a vaccine. The question of whether the C.D.C. will change its definition of fully vaccinated to include booster shots adds another layer of complexity.

It’s not just sick employees who may have to stay home: Companies are also grappling with whether vaccinated workers should quarantine after exposure to someone with Covid-19, which C.D.C. guidelines do not require.

“It becomes a challenge for employers to choose between providing a safer environment and keeping staff intact, or going with the C.D.C. guidance,” said Karen Burke, an adviser at the Society for Human Resource Management.

But almost two years into the pandemic, that’s the position that employers continue to find themselves in, amid an ever-flowing cascade of new data, guidelines and considerations.

“Every moment, you’re making life or death decisions,” Ms. Sibley said. “That’s not what we signed up for.”

Rebecca Robbins contributed reporting.

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