The past 2 years have seen many restrictions imposed on everyday life to manage COVID-19. The government guidance has recently changed regarding covid protocols and it is now a case of “living with covid” and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations have now been revoked.
Legislation regarding self-isolation is the biggest change but most guidance remains.
So what is the difference between legislation and guidance? To find out exactly what the rules are during the coronavirus pandemic, you need to look at both legislation and government guidance. Legislation is legal obligations and restrictions that are enforceable by law. Therefore, if you do not abide by the legislation you are breaking the law. Guidance and advice is likely to be based on legislation (in which case it will be legally binding) and it might offer the best or most appropriate way to adhere to the law.
The law is what you must do; the guidance might be a mixture of what you must do and what you should do.
Although it is no longer legislation, it is still public health advice that those who have tested positive continue to isolate for 5 days and have x2 negative LFD tests on consecutive days (day 5 and 6) to qualify for early release of isolation. Public Health also recommend that anyone who has covid symptoms remains at home and books a PCR test. Those who test positive should avoid contact with anyone in an at risk group (contact tracing has been removed), including if they live in the same household, and are encouraged to inform their close contacts so that they can follow the guidance.. There is specific guidance for staff in particularly vulnerable services, such as adult social care, healthcare, and prisons and places of detention. Local authorities will continue to manage local outbreaks of COVID-19 in high risk settings as they do with other infectious diseases.
Fully vaccinated close contacts and those under the age of 18 are no longer required to test daily for 7 days, and the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate has also been removed. Contacts of people with COVID-19 are advised to take extra care in following general guidance for the public on safer behaviours.
People will continue to be advised that there are safer behaviours they can adopt to reduce the risk of infection. The majority of people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable are now advised to follow the same general guidance as everyone else as a result of the protection they have received from vaccination.
The self-isolation support payments and national funding for practical support have ended and from 24 March, the COVID-19 provisions within Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance regulations will end. People with COVID-19 may still be eligible, subject to the normal conditions of entitlement.
The Government has lifted the majority of legal requirements on businesses, and continues to provide ‘Working Safely’ guidance setting out the steps that employers can take to reduce risk in their workplaces. From 1 April, the Government will replace the existing set of ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance. Employers should continue to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from COVID-19, including those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Workers are now not be legally obliged to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate. Employers and workers should follow Government guidance for those with COVID-19. Employers and businesses should continue identifying poorly ventilated spaces and take steps to improve fresh air flow.
Individuals can still reduce the risk of catching and passing on COVID-19 by:
a. Getting vaccinated;
b. Letting fresh air in if meeting indoors, or meeting outside;
c. Wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, especially where you come into contact with people you do not usually meet, when rates of transmission are high;
d. Trying to stay at home if you are unwell;
e. Taking a test if you have COVID-19 symptoms, and staying at home and avoiding contact with other people if you test positive; and
f. Washing your hands and following advice to ‘Catch it, Bin it, Kill it’.
Changes from 1 April
The Government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to minimise contact with other people and will no longer provide free universal testing for the general public in England. The Government will help enable COVID-19 tests to be made available for those who wish to purchase them through the private market (retailers and pharmacies). However, there will be some limited ongoing free testing:
a. Limited symptomatic testing available for a small number of at-risk groups – the Government will set out further details on which groups will be eligible.
b. Free symptomatic testing will remain available to social care staff
The Government will remove the current guidance on domestic voluntary COVID-status certification and will no longer recommend that certain venues use the NHS COVID Pass. The NHS App will continue to allow individuals access to their vaccination status for international travel, as well as their recovery status for travel to those overseas destinations that recognise it.
The Government will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments. The intention is to empower businesses to take responsibility for implementing mitigations that are appropriate for their circumstances. Employers that specifically work with COVID-19, such as laboratories, must continue to undertake a risk assessment that considers COVID-19. However, this does not mean you should remove your Covid risk assessments, they are still sensible practice, there is just not a legal requirement for them.
Our top tips regarding the changes
· Take a LFD test if feeling unwell to help prevent transmission of COVID-19
· Follow Public Health advice regarding Isolation.
· Contact tracing has stopped
· Ensure you have enough to LFD’s to provide to your staff who are vulnerable/pregnant so they can choose to test should they require it, incase they are unable to secure them from local sources/pharmacies
· Continue with other controls/mitigations, such as:
· Ensuring you have an updated covid risk assessment in place
· Having an outbreak management plan in place
· Enhanced cleaning schedules
· Increased ventilation
· Continuing to handwash/sanitise regularly with sanitise stations where necessary
· If you are symptomatic, do not go to work until you have a negative PCR test and if it is positive, follow current public health advice.
Living with and managing the virus will mean maintaining the population’s wall of protection and communicating safer behaviours that the public can follow to manage risk. As the virus continues to evolve, it will be important to continue to add to this understanding.