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.
Throughout this phase, people will need to minimise the spread of the disease through:
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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
Given that the risk of transmission is much lower outdoors, restrictions are being relaxed to allow people to spend time outdoors subject to:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
They will still need to meet COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
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:
This will be responsible for the new biosecurity monitoring system. The five COVID Alert Levels are:
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:
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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