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Lifting Covid restrictions: Advice for business

As we move towards step four of the Government’s roadmap for recovery from the Covid19 pandemic – hopefully on 19 July – the question businesses want to know is “what does that mean for us?”

The principle going forward is that the Government does not want to mandate what people do by making rules, but instead to let them manage the risks themselves as we learn to live with the virus.

In Health and Safety we are used to managing risk of course, but the difference with Covid19 over the last 18 months has been that it is not merely a workplace risk, and that the situation (and the rules) have been constantly changing.

Here’s what we know will be happening from 19 July:

  • The “work from home if you can” message will end. If you still have people working from home you need to consider if, how, and when you want to plan to bring them back to the office. Some employers may choose to keep an element of flexible working from home in the future.
  • Face coverings will not be legally required in any setting; people may still choose to wear them.
  • Social distancing in social and public settings will end. It will be up to employers what they do in their business, but it will obviously become increasingly difficult to enforce as people are no longer required to do it outside of work. It may be sensible to keep some limits on numbers allowed in meeting rooms and so on in the short term.
  • The current rules around self-isolation both for those who are ill / have a positive test and for “close contacts” will remain a legal requirement until at least the end of September. This may affect your thinking on removing social distancing requirements at work, as you still have to consider the implications of a whole team having to self-isolate.
  • Good hand hygiene, increased cleaning and increased ventilation will remain part of the Government advice and should continue to be practiced.
    From 16 August anyone who is a close contact of a positive case and has been fully vaccinated (“double jabbed”) at least two weeks previously, will not be required to self-isolate for ten days as they are now. There will be a new requirement to take a PCR test at once if contacted by Test and Trace, but not to self-isolate unless the test is positive. Under 18s will similarly not be required to self-isolate if they are close contacts of a positive case.

Here’s what we don’t know yet:

  • The current workplace guidance will be amended to give us “sensible precautions”, but we don’t know exactly when that will happen or what it will say.
  • There’s an implication that a separate Covid secure risk assessment won’t be necessary anymore, but that Covid precautions should be considered as part of normal H&S risk assessments, which makes sense if we are treating Covid as just another risk to deal with.

When do we expect to know more?

  • The Government will confirm on 12 July whether restrictions will be lifted on 19 July.
  • We expect to see guidance on Gov.uk on what “sensible precautions” means before the 19 July.
  • We expect to see updated guidance on the HSE website on or before 19 July.

For those who would like to read more here’s the full version of the published document: COVID-19 Response: Summer 2021 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

The relevant HSE page is here: Keeping workplaces safe as coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions are eased – sources of advice (hse.gov.uk).

Note that this timeline only applies in England, although we expect similar moves in the devolved nations in the coming weeks. If you need specific detail for one of the devolved nations of the UK, please ask us.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need any further help or advice on this.

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