The government has introduced new measures effective from 30 November to combat the spread of COVID-19 after cases of the Omicron variant of concern were found in the UK. There are changes to the rules in England on self-isolation, testing after international travel, and face coverings in certain settings, which apply from 4am on Tuesday 30 November.
The government has updated its guidance for businesses and provided information on the implementation and enforcement of new measures. However, with more still being understood about the Omicron variant, many details are still being clarified and there will be further updates in the coming days and weeks.
We will continue to update this article with new information as we get it to ensure that we continue to support businesses.
Summary of the changes from 30 November
- Face coverings are compulsory in certain indoor settings, including in shops and on public transport
- All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status for 10 days
- All international arrivals must take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative test
- Arrivals from countries on the red list must quarantine in a managed hotel and take two tests
- UPDATE: From 7 December all international arrivals must take a PCR or LFD test 2 days before their journey to England.
The government does not currently feel that it needs to introduce its main Plan B measures for managing the virus over winter – including asking businesses that can to work from home and the introduction of Covid status certification in certain settings. However, this could change as more becomes known about the variant and if many more cases are found.
What are the new rules on face coverings?
- Face coverings will be compulsory in a range of indoor settings, including shops, supermarkets, public transport and in transport hubs
- This includes staff working in those settings where the public are required to wear face coverings and where staff come into direct contact with the public
- Settings where face coverings are required must display signage or take other measures to make customers aware of the face covering requirement
- Local police will be responsible for enforcement.
What is the new self-isolation policy?
All contacts of suspected Omicron cases must self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status.
What remains unclear?
- What the lead time is between an individual being notified they are COVID-19 positive by Test and Trace and being notified that they have the Omicron variant
- Whether the definition of what constitutes a ‘close contact’ will change as more becomes known about Omicron
- Whether an employee who has been notified that they have the Omicron variant will have a legal duty to inform their employer.
What are the new rules for international travel?
- All International arrivals – including fully vaccinated people - must self-isolate and take a PCR test before the end of day 2 after they arrive in England. They may leave self-isolation if their PCR result is negative
- UPDATE: From 7 December all international arrivals must take a PCR or LFD test 2 days before their journey to England
- Six countries have been moved to the Red List for international travel, which will require hotel quarantine.
What remains unclear?
Whether the list of jobs that qualify for travel exemptions will change in light of the Omicron variant.
The CBI’s response
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief Policy Director, said that the government was right to act swiftly, but proportionately, with the goal of keeping the economy open.
Now we have more of the detail on the implementation and enforcement of new measures, maintaining the confidence of the public and business will be vital in the run up to Christmas.
For sectors like international travel, which have operated under the longest restrictions, the reintroduction of PCR testing will come as a blow just as bookings return.
If further restrictions are needed, limiting firms’ ability to trade their way to recovery, government should give firms as much forward guidance as possible and will need to consider further support.
What can businesses do?
With the reintroduction of some restrictions and the emergence of a variant of concern in the UK, many businesses will be looking to undertake measures that maintain employee and consumer confidence.
Given it is early days in the spread of Omicron, firms may want to consider whether they want to do a revised risk assessment of their operating environment.
The key for many firms will be the continuation and facilitation of open dialogue with staff to bolster confidence and trust, ensuring that a safe working environment is in place.
Principles for effective risk mitigation could include:
1. Monitor patterns of staff absence and employee relations issues, such as:
- Increases in sickness and absences through staff unable to work due to illness or self-isolation, or because of children or caring responsibilities
- An increase in employee relations issues and concerns around using public transport.
2. Consider using ‘COVID secure’ tools available to maintain employee and customer confidence, including:
- Using workplace testing to stop mass self-isolation
- Mandating guidance for staff to use face coverings in continuous close-contact settings
- Following government guidance on hygiene and ventilation to reduce the risk of aerosol transmission in the workplace.
3. Support vaccination and booster uptake by:
- Showing flexibility in supporting employees to get their vaccine/booster vaccine during working hours
- Considering holding organised vaccine days or supporting pop-up vaccination centres.
The government is expected to announce a review of the current measures three weeks from 30 November on 21 December.
The CBI will continue to gather insight from members on what these announcements mean for business and reflect this in the CBI’s conversations with the government. Businesses can send through anecdotes and questions to the CBI’s dedicated Coronavirus Mailbox.
Government and regulator resources
- Updated guidance from UKHSA on self-isolation policy from 30 November
- Updated guidance from DHSC on the use of face coverings from 30 November
- Updated guidance from DHSC and DfT on international travel from 30 November
- ICO data protection and COVID-19 advice for organisations
Decisions about actions to take will be different for every company, and this guidance cannot substitute legal advice or that of the government.