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COVID-19 – The ‘not so new’ normal

This article is a brief consideration of the known changes in lockdown provisions applicable to business this week, or in the very near future, which have been published as of Monday evening. Further guidance is being provided by HM government in the coming days.

It is worth noting that all is premised on how the “R” determiner fluctuates which is heavily dependent upon other government initiatives, so nothing is set in stone.

Finally, the below applies to England only.  For the first time the devolved governments of the UK have fractured in their co-ordinated approach to the pandemic which means unimpeded travel across the UK as a whole may no longer be permitted.

To reacquaint ourselves with the position as it is today (12th May):

Certain businesses and venues are required to stay closed:

  • restaurants and cafes, other than for takeaway
  • pubs, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs
  • clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets (not selling food)
  • libraries, community centres, and youth centres
  • indoor and outdoor leisure facilities such as bowling alleys, gyms, arcades and soft play facilities
  • some communal places within parks, such as playgrounds and outdoor gyms
  • places of worship (except for funerals)
  • hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites, caravan parks, and boarding houses for commercial/leisure use, excluding use by those who live in them permanently, those who are unable to return home and critical workers where they need to for work.

With the exception of the organisations above, the government has not required any other businesses to close but the lockdown rules have, of course, impacted them such that many have had no choice other than to close or offer significantly reduced goods and services.

Food retailers, food markets and hardware stores have remained open.

From Wednesday 13th May: 

  • garden centres and certain other retailers can open
  • tennis and basketball courts, golf courses and bowling greens can again open – if used alone or with members of your household, or with one other person from outside your household, while keeping two metres apart at all times.
  • You should travel to work, including to provide voluntary or charitable services, where you cannot work from home and your workplace has confirmed it is open.
  • Wherever possible workers should continue to work from home rather than their previous physical workplace.

In the workplace

Workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines - click here for the full guidelines. 

These were published the evening of Monday 11th May and cover eight specific areas:

  • Construction and other outdoor work
  • Factories, Plants and Warehouses
  • Labs and research Facilities
  • Office and Contact Centres
  • Restaurants offering Takeaway or Delivery
  • Shops and Branches
  • Vehicles
  • Homes

We don’t intend to set them out in detail here, but you should follow the link and read the guides which are applicable to your business. However, they contain practical guidance such as how to space seven people in a 15 seat minibus (the guide for Construction and Outdoor Work) and more strategic considerations that where the social distancing guidelines cannot be followed in full in relation to a particular activity, whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate (the guide for Offices and Contact Centres).

Much is applicable across the different guides, such as staggering arrival and departure of staff, introducing shift working to have less staff on business premises at any one time and having one way systems to ensure the two metre social distancing gap.

The Government has indicated an intent to introduce a process of spot checks, presumably linked to an enhanced enforcement regime with penalties, so businesses would be wise to read and absorb.

The guides are not all black and white, subjective consideration will be required by employers, and it may be decisions will need to be justified in the future. Employers should therefore keep good records as to why certain decisions are made and consider taking advice where they are in doubt as to any step.

Travelling

When travelling, everybody (including critical workers) should avoid public transport wherever possible. People should cycle, walk or drive.  Social distancing guidance on public transport will be published later this week and must be followed.

Face-coverings

People should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet (public transport, certain shops). However, this is not legally enforceable.

International travel

The Government will introduce restrictions at the UK border on a date yet to be announced. All international arrivals must supply contact and accommodation information. They will also be asked to download and use the NHS contact tracing app (when it is launched).

All international arrivals not on a short list of exemptions must self-isolate for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. Where international travellers are unable to demonstrate where they would self-isolate, they will be required to do so in accommodation arranged by the Government.

Small exemptions to these measures will be in place to provide for continued security of supply into the UK.

A little further ahead

From 1 June it is hoped, so it is not a certainty, that some non-essential retail will be allowed to open subject to those retailers being able to follow the COVID-19 Secure guidance as referenced and linked to above.

The Government will issue further guidance in the future, covering which businesses will be included in each phase and the timeframes involved.

Conclusion

While the documents published yesterday do not cover all the detail people may have hoped for or expected, it may become clearer later in the week as the government publishes additional guidance and clarifies its thoughts.

 

These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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