The Government has published its plan for “living with Covid-19” in England (the “Living with Covid Plan”), under which the last remaining domestic restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive Covid-19 test or as an unvaccinated contact of someone with Covid-19, will be dropped. We summarise the changes below.
Self-isolation and contact tracing
The most significant changes, which take effect from 24 February, concern the removal of self-isolation requirements and contact tracing:
- Individuals who test positive for Covid-19 will no longer be legally required to self-isolate. However, for the time being, guidance will remain in place encouraging them to remain at home and avoid contact with others. Under this guidance, they may choose to take an LFD test after five days, followed by another the next day. If both tests are negative and the individual does not have a high temperature, they may return to their normal routine.
- Individuals who are not fully vaccinated, and who are close contacts of someone with confirmed Covid-19, will no longer be legally required to self-isolate. In addition, the recommendation for fully vaccinated contacts of someone with confirmed Covid-19 to take daily LFD tests for seven days will be removed.
- Routine tracing of contacts of positive cases will cease. Those who test positive for Covid-19 will be encouraged to inform their close contacts and guidance will advise those contacts to take precautions to reduce risk to themselves and others.
Note that, since the requirement to self-isolate will no longer apply, from 24 February individuals will also no longer be legally obliged to tell their employer they are required to self-isolate.
In conjunction with the removal of the legal requirement to self-isolate, self-isolation support payments (payable by local authorities to those on low incomes) will be removed from 24 February.
The Living with Covid Plan indicates that current Covid-19 provisions on SSP will remain in place until 24 March. Accordingly, until that date, an employee who tests positive for Covid-19 and follows the guidance to stay at home will, if they are unable to work as a result, remain entitled to SSP from day one of their absence. After 24 March, eligibility for SSP for employees with Covid-19 will be subject to the normal conditions of entitlement.
From 24 February, the guidance recommending regular asymptomatic testing with LFD tests will be removed. From 1 April, the Government will no longer provide free LFD tests to the public.
Free PCR tests will also be removed from 1 April, except in relation to symptomatic testing for certain categories of vulnerable people and social care staff.
Health and safety measures
The Living with Covid Plan notes that, from 1 April:
- the requirement for all employers explicitly to consider Covid-19 in their workplace risk assessments will be removed;
- the Working Safely guidance will be replaced with new public health guidance (Government will be consulting with employers to ensure that any new guidance continues to support the need to manage the risk of Covid-19 in workplaces);
- the recommendation that certain venues use the NHS Covid Pass and the guidance on voluntary Covid status certification will be removed; and
- the Government will update the guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with Covid-19 should take to minimise contact with other people (see above under ‘Self-isolation and contact tracing’).
Implications for employers
The measures set out in the Living with Covid Plan, in particular the removal of self-isolation requirements, may give rise to various issues for employers. For example:
- Assuming that employers will, as a starting point, expect employees to follow the guidance and stay at home if they test positive for Covid-19, what approach will employers take where an employee with Covid-19 says that they feel well and wish to attend work? (Note, though, that as employees will not be under any specific legal obligation to inform their employer if they have Covid-19, an employee who does not wish to follow the guidance on staying at home may simply not tell their employer if they test positive.)
- How will employers handle a situation where an employee does not wish to attend the workplace due to concerns about working with colleagues who may have Covid-19? (This may be of particular concern to employees who are clinically vulnerable or who live with someone who is.)
- What impact will the removal of self-isolation requirements have on employers’ need to collect and process data on employees’ Covid-19 or vaccination status and their ability to do so under data protection law?
- What will the removal of the requirement for employers explicitly to consider Covid-19 in their health and safety risk assessments mean for the continuation of Covid-related safety measures in the workplace?
We recommend that employers start to think about these issues now, although their approach may well need to evolve as and when further Government guidance is released.
How we can help
We are in the process of updating our Covid-19 FAQs to address the forthcoming changes and their implications for employers.
Make UK member companies who have questions or concerns about the implications of the Living with Covid Plan for their workplace can speak to their regular adviser.
We can also provide advice and assistance to non-members on a consultancy basis – if you would like further information on our services, please call us on 0808 168 5874, or email [email protected].