Omicron response: work from home guidance reintroduced

Yesterday evening (Wednesday 8 December) the PM held a press briefing accompanied by the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and the Chief Science Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance. They confirmed that it’s becoming clear that the Omicron variant is spreading more quickly than the Delta variant, with cases now in every region of the UK and a doubling time estimated to be between two and three days.

The PM stressed that we can’t assume at this stage that the effects of Omicron will be less severe and therefore there is a threat of increased hospitalisations and potentially deaths. He confirmed that it’s now time to move to Plan B in England.

This means:

  1. The government is reintroducing the guidance to work from home. Employers should use the rest of the week to discuss arrangements with their employees but from Monday 13 December employees should work from home where they can.
  2. From Friday 10 December the legal requirement to wear face coverings is extended to most public indoor venues including theatres and cinemas. There will be exceptions where it is not practical such as when you are eating, drinking, exercising, or singing.
  3. Production of the NHS COVID Pass will be mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people. The Pass is available to those who have had two vaccine jabs even if they’ve not had their booster, but this will be kept under review as boosters are rolled out. A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient. This requirement will come into force in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare.
  4. The PM also said that daily lateral flow tests for contacts of Omicron cases will replace self-isolation, but no further details, or implementation dates, have been provided on this.
  • The data will be kept under review and if it becomes clear that boosters are able to contain Omicron, the government will return to the previous rules.
  • The PM was asked whether mandatory vaccination was being considered. He said that he made it clear from the outset of the pandemic that this is not the way he wants to go as that is not how we do things in this country. However, he went on to say that if it can be shown that vaccines can contain the Omicron variant, we will need to have a national “conversation” about how we deal with the pandemic going forward as we can’t keep imposing restrictions on our way of life and we may need to look at pharmaceutical interventions (i.e. vaccination requirements). However, this would only happen if we can show the booster can contain Omicron.
  • The measures will be reviewed no later than early January and quite possibly before then if a clear picture from the data emerges.
  • The PM was asked for his view on Christmas parties in light of this evening’s announcements. He said they should not be cancelled and should go ahead but people should exercise appropriate measures such as having adequate ventilation, washing their hands and taking a lateral flow test before they go.

What do I need to do?

Consult: Consult with your employees and workers and make sure you take on board any feedback – people are more likely to comply with the measures you need to take if they understand and are engaged in the process. They may also have thought of ideas and control measures that you haven’t!

Keep records of any meetings and consultations, even remotely (such as recording an online meeting) so you can demonstrate that this has taken place.

Risk assessments: You should review your risk assessments so you’re doing everything you need to in line with the current guidelines. Keep these under review to ensure that you are in line with the latest guidelines and inform your workers of any changes.

As part of your risk assessment, you may need to consider items such as face coverings, COVID passes and certification (for certain venues); your workplace ventilation and the current reporting requirements which apply to your business.

Further information on this is available here for England.

Homeworking and Display Screen Equipment (DSE): Where your employees are working from home, you must take reasonable steps to ensure they are maintaining a healthy and safe working environment, you should do this in a recordable way, such as via a homeworking and DSE assessment checklist. Consider your employees’ circumstances in consultation with them to ensure that they are able to work safely.

How Citation can help

If you’re a Citation client and you’ve got any questions about how these newly reintroduced rules may affect your business, you can call our 24/7 advice line on 0345 844 4848.

If you’ve purchased our Southalls services, your consultant will be in touch where risk assessments require an update. And if you’ve got any further questions, please email ask@citation.co.uk.

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