Do you remember that feeling when school was out… for the last time? No rules, no one telling you what you should do. I am feeling a touch of nostalgia for those days when I look at the latest Covid-19 guidance from the Government. We have lived through the years of strict rules when it was clear (to most of us outside Downing Street) what was lawful and what was not. But now, all rules are gone, and, in its wake, we are left with some rather vague advice from the UK Health Agency, formerly known as Public Health England.
The Government chose 1 April to release new guidance; copies of the guidance (for England only) are linked below*.
What are the headlines?
- Covid-19’s dominance has been usurped! The Government has clearly indicated its intention of treating Covid-19 like any other flu-like illness. The guidance refers throughout to 'Covid-19 and other respiratory infections'.
- If you have Covid-19 (or symptoms of respiratory infection), feel unwell and can’t carry out 'normal activities' then you are advised to try to stay at home until you are feeling better.
- If you have a positive test for Covid-19 but are feeling fine, then you are advised to stay at home and avoid mixing for five days. This includes working from home where you can and where you can’t 'talking to your employer about the options available to you'.
- Symptoms of Covid-19 have been extended out, the symptoms of Covid-19 and with it flu and common respiratory infections now include ailments such as not wanting to eat or not feeling hungry, muscle aches or pains that are not due to exercise and diarrhoea, feeling sick or being sick. (There are more so do check the guidance for the full list)
- The Government continues to encourage the take up of vaccines as the best means of preventing infections. Vaccinations to be encouraged are not just those linked to Covid-19 but extended out to others, such as the flu vaccine.
What’s the response for employers?
- Continue to manage the risk of infection in the workplace. Whilst there may be no need for employers to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risk assessment, organisations who fail to take this risk into consideration, especially where there are more vulnerable staff working, could risk breaching their health and safety responsibilities. The Government continues to reiterate the importance of vaccines, ventilation and cleanliness in the workplace.
- Decide your policy with regards to staff who are positive and still able to work. With such woolly guidance, it will be a decision for employers to decide how to treat staff who are asymptomatic, testing positive and cannot work from home. Practically, with no free testing in place, there may be many staff who attend work, asymptomatic, untested, and so blissfully unaware of their infection status. Some organisations may choose to manage the risk by having sufficient infection control measures in the workplace so as to avoid staff shortages, others may choose to request staff stay at home for five days when they test positive. The whys and wherefores of these decisions and the financial ramifications are beyond this blog. Please do contact our team if you would like specific advice.
- Address your existing measures to ensure still relevant. Do you still require mask-wearing and are the requirements consistent with the new guidance? The guidance continues to advise mask-wearing in crowded and enclosed spaces, when in close contact with a vulnerable person and when 'there are a lot of respiratory viruses circulating'. That last one is sufficiently vague to be of no practical use at all!
Are you still encouraging vaccinations within the workplace and extending that out to flu jabs as well? Are any vaccination policies (whether that be for new starters or the whole workforce) proving workable? We would continue to advise that 'no jab no job policies' for existing staff would only be wise in circumstances where extreme external pressure is being exerted on an organisation to take up such a policy.
If you would like any specific guidance on these issues, please contact the team and we would be happy to help.
Public health principles for reducing the spread of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, in the workplace.