Government confirms the end of Covid restrictions
Throughout the pandemic, the government introduced various rules and regulations for the public to follow, to keep them as safe as possible from the impacts of COVID-19. Such measures included the requirement to self-isolate if displaying symptoms of Covid, returned a positive Covid test or identified as a close contact of a positive case. As well as, the provision of free testing and vaccines, and support payments to individuals and businesses.
In February 2022, following a reduction in the numbers of Covid-related hospitalisations and deaths, the Prime Minister announced plans to end all Covid restrictions in England. Initially, regulations were in place until 24 March 2022, but the government decided to bring forward the expiry date by one month.
On 21 February 2022, Boris Johnson set out a four-step plan to revoke all remaining Covid regulations in England, known as the “Living with Covid” strategy. He outlined the plan to be as follows:
From 21 February 2022: Guidance for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice weekly asymptomatic (lateral flow) testing was removed
From 24 February 2022: The legal requirement to self- isolate following a positive Covid test was removed. Fully vaccinated people and under 18s who have close contact with a positive case do not need to undertake a lateral flow test every day for 7 days. Close contacts who are not fully vaccinated also do not need to self-isolate.
At this point, self-isolation support payments (including the £500 payment for those on low incomes) ended, as well as routine contact tracing. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations which gave powers to local authorities to give directions relating to premises,
From 24 March 2022: The entitlement to be paid SSP from day-one for Covid-related absences and for SSP to be paid for periods of self-isolation, where the employee has not tested positive (so is isolating as a close contact) or the employee is not unwell (i.e. they are medically fit and able to work despite a positive test result) will be removed.
From 1 April 2022: Free universal symptomatic (PCR) and asymptomatic (lateral flow) testing for the general public will end, as well as guidance on voluntary Covid-status certification in domestic settings and recommendations that certain venues should use the NHS Covid Pass.
There will be updated guidance on the ongoing steps people with Covid should take to minimise contact, in line with changes to testing. There will also be the introduction of new public health guidance to replace existing “Working Safely” guidance and the removal of the health and safety requirement for employers to explicitly consider Covid in their risk assessments.
Employers may have to manage employees coming into the workplace whilst they are Covid-positive. They may also have to manage staff members (and service users) who are clinically extremely vulnerable, so are concerned about the safety of the workplace – this will likely be most prudent for care sector organisations.
Employers will have to look closely at their health and safety policies and procedures, to ensure the workplace continues to be safe from Covid; this might mean (re)introducing more or new safety measures like face masks, one-way systems, and physical distancing.
Some employers might want to introduce a contractual isolation requirement, so they can tell employees not to come into the workplace if they have Covid. They will have to assess how this will work in practice, including how long the isolation period will be, what pay employees will get and how they will evidence having Covid. Employers will need a sound business case to explain very clearly why a policy of this nature is needed.