COVID-19: UK government releases their plan to rebuild the UK economy

Please Note: All information correct at time of writing on 12 May 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

On Monday 11 May the government published “OUR PLAN TO REBUILD: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy” in the face of heavy criticism that the Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday 10 May was unclear and seemed to reflect diverging approaches being adopted by England and the rest of the UK.

The key points for business to note are:

Businesses should put plans together to reflect that this is not a short-term crisis. The guidance states:

“It is likely that COVID-19 will circulate in the human population long-term, possibly causing periodic epidemics. In the near future, large epidemic waves cannot be excluded without continuing some measures.”

The spread of the virus is difficult to detect as many people carry the disease asymptomatically. Even those who do develop symptoms often don’t develop symptoms for around 5 days. However, a significant proportion of infections happen during this time, particularly in the two days before symptoms appear.

The government has identified three phases of our recovery.

Phase 1 – (Which we are in the course of exiting) is the contain, delay, research and mitigate stage.

Phase 2 – Smarter controls.

In this phase, the government will be gradually replacing the current social distancing measures with smarter measures which will balance having the largest effect on controlling the epidemic with the lowest health, economic and social costs.

Phase 3 – Reliable treatment (and/or a vaccine).

We’re going to take a look at plans for phase 2, as outlined in the government guide, below.

Phase 2 - Smarter controls

Throughout this phase, people will need to minimise the spread of the disease through:

  • continuing good hygiene practices including hand washing and regular disinfecting of surfaces touched by others
  • practicing social distancing
  • limiting the number of social contacts people make each day
  • symptomatic and diagnosed individuals self-isolating.


The risk of transmission outdoors is significantly lower and therefore reopening outdoor spaces and activities (subject to continued social distancing) comes earlier in the roadmap.

However, reopening:
  • indoor public spaces and leisure facilities (such as gyms and cinemas)
  • premises whose core purpose is social interaction (such as nightclubs)
  • venues that attract large crowds (like sports stadia)
  • and personal care establishments where close contact is inherent (like beauty salons)

may “only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections.”

The gap between releasing measures will be several weeks as it will be necessary to consider the impact this has had on the R rate and the other tests before moving on to the next phase of the timetable.

Restrictions may be released at a different pace throughout the devolved administrations to reflect varying levels of infection and this may also vary regionally within England for the same reason.

COVID-19 secure guidelines

One of the biggest changes is the government’s new advice that the public should consider wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as shops, trains and buses to help reduce the spread of the virus.

The guidance specifically states that they “do not need to be worn outdoors, while exercising, in schools, in workplaces such as offices, and retail, or by those who may find them difficult to wear, such as children under two or primary aged children who cannot use them without assistance, or those who may have problems breathing whilst wearing a face covering”.

The public are being urged not to buy surgical grade masks but to make their own instead (and have published a guide on how to do this).

The main purpose of wearing face-coverings is to protect against transmitting the virus to others rather than protecting the wearer. It is very important that this does not lead to complacency in terms of good hygiene practices and social distancing.

Shielding

Unfortunately for the most clinically vulnerable (around 2.5 million people) , there does not seem to be any prospect of restrictions being relaxed in the near future, with the guidance stating that the government will need to continue an extensive programme of shielding for this group while the virus continues to circulate and this will almost certainly go beyond the end of June.

Self-isolation

The rules about symptomatic and household isolation will continue to apply but, with greater swab testing capacity, it is hoped that many people will be able to bring their isolation to an end by getting confirmation that they have not been infected by the virus.

Step by step road map for lifting restrictions

This timetable applies in England but has to be read in conjunction with local public health and safety requirements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 Step 1 from Wednesday 13 May

Work

“For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible”.

“All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and non- essential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring to remain closed”.


Employers should follow the COVID Secure guidelines on workplace safety “as soon as practical”.

It is essential that if someone has symptoms, or lives in a household with someone displaying symptoms, they must not go to work but should follow the rules on self-isolation.

School

Although it is not possible to re-open schools generally at the moment, they will remain open for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.

The guidance states that local authorities and schools should urge more of these children who would benefit from attending in person to do so. The Government is also amending its guidance to clarify that paid childcare, for example nannies and childminders, can take place subject to being able to meet the public health principles at Annex A (please see later) because these are roles where working from home is not possible.

The aim behind this is to encourage more working parents to get back to work.

Travel

The government is working with transport providers to increase the level of services to pre-COVID levels. However, the government is asking everyone (including essential workers) to avoid public transport wherever possible in favour of driving, cycling and walking. The government will increase funding and provide new statutory guidance to encourage local authorities to widen pavements, create pop-up cycle lanes, and close some roads in cities to traffic (apart from buses) to facilitate this.

It is essential that social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed rigorously and guidance has been published on this earlier today

Public spaces

Given that the risk of transmission is much lower outdoors, restrictions are being relaxed to allow people to spend time outdoors subject to:

  • not meeting up with more than one person from outside your household
  • continued compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain two metres (6ft) away from people outside your household
  • good hand hygiene, particularly with respect to shared surfaces
  • those responsible for public places being able to put appropriate measures in place to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidance

People can also exercise as many times each day as they wish, and this will include angling and tennis. You can only exercise with one person outside your household and therefore team sports should not be played (unless with members of your household).

Playgrounds, outdoor gyms or ticketed outdoor leisure venues, will remain out of action.

People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, but they should not travel to areas of the devolved administrations where different rules may apply.

Clinically vulnerable groups

For people in these groups (those aged over 70, those with specific chronic pre-existing conditions and pregnant women), although they are not required to shield, they should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their households.

As stated previously, those who have been advised to shield must continue to do so. To support them, the government are providing essential food to those unable to leave their home, have arranged priority access to supermarket deliveries for those who have said they need it and have facilitated a volunteer support network.

International travel

Although not commencing on 13 May, the government will be introducing as soon as possible a series of measures for those entering the UK by air including:

  • requiring new arrivals to provide contact and accommodation details and strongly urging them to download the NHS contract tracing app
  • requiring all international arrivals not on a shortlist of exemptions to self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK ( the government will arrange accommodation if they can’t show where they would do this). Journeys within the Common Travel Area will be exempt ( this includes Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man).

Step 2 – no earlier than Monday 1 June

The proposed timetable for step 2 will be entirely subject to the assessment of the COVID Alert level and the continuing ability to meet the five tests. The government is going to try and co-ordinate this timetable with all areas of the UK.

Schools and nurseries

A phased return for primary school children and early years settings. This will start with children returning to nurseries and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils. Ideally, the government would like to see all primary school children back in school for at least a month before the summer break.

The aim is for Year 10 and Year 12 children to have “some face to face contact” with their teachers before the summer holidays.

Obviously social distancing in schools and early years settings is very challenging. The Department of Education has issued guidance on how this can be achieved.

Non-essential retail

The government hope to open non-essential retail from 1 June “when and where it is safe to do so, and subject to those retailers being able to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines”. This will be phased and again, more guidance will follow on the businesses covered in each phase and the timescales involved.

All other sectors that are currently closed, including hospitality and personal care, will not be able to reopen until later in phase 3.

Other measures in this phase will probably include:

  • cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast
  • re-opening more local public transport in urban areas, “subject to strict measures to limit as far as possible the risk of infection in these normally crowded spaces”.

Social and family contact

Although social distancing will remain with us until we have found a vaccine or an effective treatment for the disease, the government is looking at ways in which they can permit an extension of social contact beyond our household. One option being looked at is the New Zealand model of contact between household ‘bubbles’. More will be said on this over the next few weeks.

Step 3 – no earlier than 4 July

Again, subject to review of the COVID Alert level and the 5 tests continuing to be met, the government hopes to open up some of the businesses which were required to close including:

  • personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons)
  • hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation)
  • public places (such as places of worship) and
  • leisure facilities (such as cinemas).

They will still need to meet COVID-19 Secure guidelines.

Social Care

This is a huge focus for the government as the COVID transmission rate has been much higher in this area than in other areas of the community. They have set out a 6-point strategy based on:

  • Testing – this covers swift testing of all symptomatic care home residents and all patients discharged from the hospital before going into care homes. The government is also making available a COVID-19 test to every staff member and resident in every care home in England, whether symptomatic or not (the aim is that by 6 June, every care home for the over 65s will have been offered testing for residents and staff).
  • Infection prevention and control - this will include supporting the supply and distribution of PPE to the care sector, delivering essential supplies to care homes, providing guidance, both online and by phone, on how to prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks including instructions on how to deep clean effectively after outbreaks and how to enhance regular cleaning practices. The NHS has committed to providing a named contact to help ‘train the trainers’ for every care home that wants it by 15 May. The guidance also makes it clear that the government expects all care homes minimise the risk of infection by restricting all routine and non-essential healthcare visits and reducing staff movement between homes.
  • Workforce- some of you may have already seen the government-backed recruitment campaign for the sector which is being supplemented by government funding for rapid induction training, making Disclosure and Barring Services checks free for those working in social care and developing an online training and job matching platform.
  • Clinical support- the introduction of a new service of enhanced health support in care homes from GPs and community health services, including making sure every care home has a named clinician to support the clinical needs of their residents by 15 May.
  • Guidance- the government have published several resources for care homes, including advice for managing the COVID-19 pandemic in different social care settings and with groups with specific needs, for example, adults with learning disabilities and autism.
  • Local Authority role - it is the responsibility of every local authority to ensure that each care home in their area has access to the extra support on offer that they need to minimise the risk of infection and spread of infection within their care home.

Joint Biosecurity Centre

This will be responsible for the new biosecurity monitoring system. The five COVID Alert Levels are:

  • Level 1 - COVID-19 is not known to be present in the UK
  • Level 2 - COVID-19 is present in the UK, but the number of cases and transmission is low
  • Level 3 - A COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation
  • Level 4 - A COVID-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially
  • Level 5 - As level 4 and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed

We are currently moving from Level 4 to Level 3.

How people can stay safe outside their home

At Appendix A, the government set out how people can stay as safe as possible when they are outside their home. This includes reference to the fact that they must follow the advice given to them by their employers when they are at work. It also includes reference to the employer’s obligation to "assess and manage risks to your safety in the workplace” and that guidance has been given to employers to help them do this including:

  • how to make adjustments to your workplace to help you maintain social distance and guidance on hygiene as evidence suggests that the virus can exist for up to 72 hours on surfaces
  • Frequent cleaning is therefore particularly important for communal surfaces like door handles or lift buttons and communal areas like bathrooms, kitchens and tea points.


It suggest that employees ask their employers if they have any questions on this and here, we are expecting lots of issues to arise. The COVID Secure guidance should help employers assess what they need to be doing (on top of the guidance already available) but this is an area where it will be important for businesses to take both Health and Safety advice and employment law advice.

From a Health and Safety perspective, businesses will need to undertake a COVID risk assessment given that the virus has potentially introduced a new element of danger into every workplace.

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These are challenging times, especially for employees, business owners and employers. Our team of HR and Employment Law experts provide you with the latest government news to help you work through this difficult period.

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