The Government has today (1 April 2022) updated its guidance on Covid-19 in England, to coincide with the removal of free LFD and PCR tests. Below, we take a look at what the new guidance says and what this means for employers.
Guidance on ‘Living safely with respiratory infections, including Covid-19’
The UK Health Security Agency has published guidance entitled Living safely with respiratory infections, including Covid-19, which provides basic advice for the public on actions to take to help reduce the risk of catching and passing on Covid-19 and other respiratory infections. This guidance focuses on four key areas:
- getting vaccinated against Covid-19, including taking up the offer of any booster jabs for which people are eligible;
- ensuring that indoor spaces are well ventilated to reduce the amount of respiratory virus in the air;
- practising good hygiene, such as covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, washing your hands and cleaning surfaces regularly; and
- wearing a face covering in certain higher risk situations, such as when visiting someone who is vulnerable, or when you will be in close contact with lots of other people.
Guidance for ‘People with symptoms of a respiratory infection including Covid-19’
The other key piece of guidance published by the UK Health Security Agency is directed at people with symptoms of a respiratory infection including Covid-19. It replaces previous guidance on self-isolation and recommends that:
- Adults who have symptoms of a respiratory infection, who have not taken a Covid-19 test, but who have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until they no longer have a high temperature (if they had one) or until they no longer feel unwell.
- Adults who have taken a Covid-19 test and received a positive result should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day they took their test, even if they do not have any symptoms.
- In both of the above scenarios, people are advised to work from home if they can, and to talk to their employer about options available to them if they cannot work from home.
- Children who have mild symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as a runny nose, sore throat, or slight cough, but are otherwise well, can continue to attend school.
- Children who are unwell and have a high temperature should stay at home and avoid contact with other people where they can. They can return to school when they no longer have a high temperature and are well enough to attend.
- Children should not be tested for Covid-19 unless this is recommended by a health professional. If a child has a positive Covid-19 test, they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 3 days after the day they took the test, if they can.
Removal of ‘Working Safely’ guidance
The Government has previously confirmed in its ‘Covid-19 Response: Living with Covid-19’ (the ‘Living with Covid Plan’) that the guidance on ‘Working Safely’ would be removed with effect from 1 April and replaced with new public health guidance. At the time of writing, however, the ‘Working Safely’ guidance remains online and the new guidance is not yet available.
The Living with Covid Plan also indicated that, from 1 April, employers would no longer be subject to any specific requirement explicitly to consider Covid-19 in their health and safety risk assessments. That said, employers are still under a general obligation in health and safety law to take all reasonably practicable steps to provide a safe working environment.
Removal of free Covid-19 testing
Free LFD tests are no longer generally available to the public, although they continue to be available to individuals in certain high risk settings, such as patient-facing NHS staff, care home workers, etc. People who are not eligible for free LFD tests can purchase them from pharmacies.
Free PCR tests that were previously available to anyone with symptoms have also been removed for most people.
Issues for employers
In light of the new guidance, employers will need to consider various issues, such as:
- What Covid-19 related safety measures will they retain in the workplace? Although there is no longer a requirement explicitly to consider Covid-19 in workplace risk assessments, this does not necessarily mean that no Covid-19 related workplace safety measures will be required. Employers will need to consider what approach to take at their workplace based on their particular circumstances.
- If employees are concerned about catching Covid-19 in the workplace and are therefore reluctant to attend work, how will the employer address this?
- If an employee attends work displaying symptoms of a respiratory infection, will the employer send them home on sick leave? What if the employee insists that they feel well enough to work?
- How will employers accommodate employees who are unable to attend work because their child is off school with symptoms of a respiratory infection?
Note that the new guidance discussed above is applicable in England. The devolved administrations have separate powers over Covid-19 related measures in their respective countries and the position in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may therefore differ.
How we can help
We are currently in the process of updating our Covid-19 FAQs to address the latest changes and the issues they raise for employers.
Make UK member companies who have questions or concerns about the implications of the latest guidance 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].