Latest Guidance From The Government
The Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday, and further interjections yesterday, underline the government’s intention to move to the next stage in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, namely ‘recovery.’ The government has published Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy, which will sit alongside new safety guidelines, due to be published this week that set out how workspaces will be adapted to make sure employees can work safely.
In this bulletin, we focus on particular extracts in ‘Our Plan to rebuild’ and the current government guidance, relevant to member companies thinking through how they return to a more normal operating model. We have attached pdf copies of Our Plan to Rebuild (OPTR), and the current guidance for employers on Working safely in Offices and Contact Centres. We will provide further updates to members as the new safety guidelines are released.
“COVID-19 Secure” guidelines
The Government has been consulting relevant sectors, industry bodies, local authorities, trades unions, the Health and Safety Executive and Public Health England on the development of new safety guidelines and will release them this week.
They will also include measures that were unlikely to be effective when the virus was so widespread that full stay-at-home measures were required, but that may now have some effect as the public increase the number of social contacts – including, for example, advising the use of face coverings in enclosed public areas such as on public transport and introducing stricter restrictions on international travellers.
Many businesses across the UK have already been highly innovative in developing new, durable ways of doing business, such as moving online or adapting to a delivery model. Many of these changes, like increased home working, have significant benefits, for example, reducing the carbon footprint associated with commuting. The Government will need to continue to ask all employers and operators of communal spaces to be innovative in developing novel approaches; UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will welcome grant applications for proposals to develop new technologies and approaches that help the UK mitigate the impact of this virus.
Working from home or going to the workplace
For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. This will help minimise the number of social contacts across the country and therefore keep transmissions as low as possible. All those who work are contributing taxes that help pay for the healthcare provision on which the UK relies. People who are able to work at home make it possible for people who have to attend workplaces in person to do so while minimising the risk of overcrowding on transport and in public places.
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.
As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines, as set out in the previous chapter, which will be published this week. These will ensure the risk of infection is as low as possible, while allowing as many people as possible to resume their livelihoods.
Travel to and from work
While most journeys to work involve people travelling either by bike, by car or on foot, public transport takes a significant number of people to work across the country, but particularly in urban centres and at peak times. As more people return to work, the number of journeys on public transport will also increase. This is why the Government is working with public transport providers to bring services back towards pre-COVID-19 levels as quickly as possible. This roadmap takes the impact on public transport into account in the proposed phased easing of measures.
When travelling everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. If they can, people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact. It is important many more people can easily travel around by walking and cycling, so 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) as some councils are already proposing.
Social distancing guidance on public transport must be followed rigorously. As with workplaces, transport operators should follow appropriate guidance to make their services COVID-19 Secure; this will be published this week.
People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household.
“COVID-19 Secure” guidelines
Since mid-April an extensive programme of engagement has been underway between Government, the Health and Safety Executive, the public health authorities, business representative groups, unions, employers and local authorities, to agree the best way to make workplaces less infectious.
The guidelines will be based on sound evidence – from what has worked elsewhere in the world, and the best available scientific theory. The most important guidelines people can follow to stay safer outside their homes are attached at Annex A. For example:
● Individuals should keep their distance from people outside their household, wherever possible. Transmission is affected by both duration and proximity of contact; individuals should not be too close to other people for more than a short amount of time. Public Health England recommends trying to keep two metres away from people as a precaution.
● It remains essential to keep hands and face as clean as possible. People should wash their hands often, using soap and water, and dry them thoroughly. Touching of the face should be avoided. Hand sanitiser should be carried when travelling and applied where available outside the home, especially when entering a building and following contact with surfaces. Clothes should also be washed regularly, as there is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics.
● It is possible to reduce the risks of transmission in the workplace by limiting the number of people that any given individual comes into contact with regularly. Employers can support this where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to keep smaller, contained teams. Evidence also suggests the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well-ventilated areas.
In addition to COVID-19 Secure guidelines for workplaces, the Government will consult on and release similar guidelines for schools, prisons, and other public spaces.
Economic and social support to maintain livelihoods and restore the economy
The Government has announced one of the most generous and comprehensive support packages in the world, providing security and support for those who get sick or can’t work and a bridge for businesses to protect people’s jobs.
Support has been announced to help millions of workers and businesses, for the most vulnerable in society and those on the lowest income, for homeowners and renters, and for public services and vital sectors. The Government’s package has also been complemented by the actions of the independent Bank of England.
The Government has introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to prevent employers having to lay off staff and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to support eligible sole traders and partnerships, and has increased the standard allowance of Universal Credit and basic element of Working Tax Credits by £20 a week for one year (this will mean claimants are £1,040 per year better off). In the first two weeks since the Job Retention scheme was launched, over 800,000 employers have applied for help to pay the wages of over 6 million furloughed jobs.
The Government has increased the support it is offering through the benefit system for housing costs and for the self-employed, it has introduced a moratorium on private rental sector evictions, has established a new hardship fund and provided support for rough sleepers. Lenders are offering mortgage holidays for borrowers struggling with their finances and unable to make their repayments as a result of COVID-19.
This is in addition to support for businesses, including:
● VAT deferrals until the end of June that provide a direct cash injection of over £30bn, Self-Assessment tax deferrals from July to next January, providing a cashflow benefit of £13bn and more than 64,000 tailored Time to Pay arrangements agreed with businesses and individuals;
● A business rates holiday worth £11bn to businesses;
● Direct cash grants worth £10,000 or £25,000 for small businesses including in the retail, hospitality or leisure sectors, worth over £12bn in total;
● £1.25bn support for innovative firms;
● A rebate scheme to reimburse SMEs for part of their SSP costs worth up to £2bn for up to two million businesses; and
● A package of government-backed and guaranteed loans, which make available approximately £330bn of guarantees.
The Government is also supporting the NHS and other public services in the fight against the virus. So far more than £16bn from the COVID-19 Response Fund has gone towards the effort.
The Government recognises that many charities are working on the frontline to support people including hospices, citizens advice and support for victims of domestic violence and has provided a £750m package to enable those working on the frontline to continue supporting UK communities.
However, these measures are extraordinarily costly and cannot be sustained for a prolonged period of time. Precise costs will depend on a range of factors including the impact of the crisis on the wider economy and the level of take up for each scheme. The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that the direct cost to the Government of the response to COVID-19 could rise above £100bn in 2020-21. In addition to this, support of approximately £330bn (equivalent to 15% of GDP) in the form of guarantees and loans has been made available to business.
So as the UK adjusts the current restrictions, the Government will also need to wind down the economic support measures while people are eased back to work
The Government will also need to ensure the UK’s supply chains are resilient, ensuring the UK has sufficient access to the essential medicines, PPE, testing equipment, vaccines and treatments it needs, even during times of global shortage.
The world will not return to ‘normal’ after COVID-19; much of the global economy is likely to change significantly. The UK will need to be agile in adapting to and shaping this new world if the Government is to improve living standards across the nation as it recovers from COVID-19.
Within the document, the government has explained their latest guidance in order to stay safe outside the home.
Annex A: Staying safe outside your home
This guidance sets out the principles you should follow to ensure that time spent with others outside your homes is as safe as possible (unless you are clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable in which case you should follow separate advice on GOV.UK). It is your responsibility to adopt these principles wherever possible. The Government is also using these principles as the basis of discussions with businesses, unions, local government and many other stakeholders to agree how they should apply in different settings to make them safer. All of us, as customers, visitors, employees or employers, need to make changes to lower the risk of transmission of the virus. The Government has consulted with its scientific advisers to establish the principles that will determine these changes.
Keep your distance from people outside your household, recognising this will not always be possible. The risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus and the amount of time you spend in close contact: you are very unlikely to be infected if you walk past another person in the street. Public Health England recommends trying to keep 2m away from people as a precaution. However, this is not a rule and the science is complex. The key thing is to not be too close to people for more than a short amount of time, as much as you can.
Keep your hands and face as clean as possible. Wash your hands often using soap and water, and dry them thoroughly. Use sanitiser where available outside your home, especially as you enter a building and after you have had contact with surfaces. Avoid touching your face.
Work from home if you can. Many people can do most or all of their work from home, with the proper equipment and adjustments. Your employer should support you to find reasonable adjustments to do this. However, not all jobs can be done from home. If your workplace is open and you cannot work from home, you can travel to work.
Avoid being face to face with people if they are outside your household. You are at higher risk of being directly exposed to respiratory droplets released by someone talking or coughing when you are within 2m of someone and have face-to-face contact with them. You can lower the risk of infection if you stay side-to-side rather than facing people.
Reduce the number of people you spend time within a work setting where you can. You can lower the risks of transmission in the workplace by reducing the number of people you come into contact with regularly, which your employer can support where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to match you with the same team each time and splitting people into smaller, contained teams.
Avoid crowds. You can lower the risks of transmission by reducing the number of people you come into close contact with, so avoid peak travel times on public transport where possible, for example. Businesses should take reasonable steps to avoid people being gathered together, for example by allowing the use of more entrances and exits and staggering entry and exit where possible.
If you have to travel (to work or school, for example) think about how and when you travel. To reduce demand on the public transport network, you should walk or cycle wherever possible. If you have to use public transport, you should try and avoid peak times. Employers should consider staggering working hours and expanding bicycle storage facilities, changing facilities and car parking to help.
Wash your clothes regularly. There is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics for a few days, although usually it is shorter, so if you are working with people outside your household wash your clothes regularly. Changing clothes in workplaces should only normally be considered where there is a high risk of infection or there are highly vulnerable people, such as in a care home. If you need to change your clothes avoid crowding into a changing room.
Keep indoor places well ventilated. Evidence suggests that the virus is less likely to be passed on in well-ventilated buildings and outdoors. In good weather, try to leave windows and doors open in places where people from different households come into contact – or move activity outdoors if you can. Use external extractor fans to keep spaces well ventilated and make sure that ventilation systems are set to maximise the fresh air flow rate. Heating and cooling systems can be used at their normal temperature settings.
If you can, wear a face covering in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas, for example on public transport or in some shops. The evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not developed symptoms. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough and/or high temperature) you and your household should isolate at home: wearing a face covering does not change this. A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers; these supplies should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers and those in industrial settings like those exposed to dust hazards. Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 2 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example primary school age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions. It is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.
You can make face coverings at home; the key thing is it should cover your mouth and nose. You can find guidance on how to do this on GOV.UK.
Following employer’s advice
You should follow the advice given to you by your employer when at work. Employers have a duty to assess and manage risks to your safety in the workplace. The Government has issued guidance to help them do this. This includes how to make adjustments to your workplace to help you maintain social distance. It also includes 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. You can see the guidance on GOV.UK and can ask your employer if you have questions.