On Monday 23 November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out the government’s COVID-19 Winter Plan – a programme aimed at suppressing the virus, protecting the NHS and the vulnerable, keeping education and the economy going and providing a route back to normality.
Whilst the Prime Minister was optimistic over recent advances in finding a vaccine, there was acknowledgement that the next few months will continue to be incredibly tough for both individuals and businesses. The government’s Winter Plan has been designed to carry the country through to the spring, where it is hoped that a vaccine will be available.
Toughening of tiering
The Prime Minister confirmed that current national restrictions will end on 2 December and will not be renewed. Instead, England will revert to a regional tiered approach – applying the toughest measures where coronavirus is most prevalent.
In contrast to the previous system, restrictions in each tier will be toughened in efforts to try and control the virus. Examples of how the tiers will be stricter include:
- Tier 1: the government will reinforce the importance of working from home wherever possible
- Tier 2: pubs and bars must close unless they are serving substantial meals, along with accompanying drinks
- Tier 3: all hospitality settings will close apart from delivery, takeaway and drive-through; hotels and other accommodation providers must close, and indoor entertainment venues must also close.
Crucially for businesses operating across multiple sites, restrictions under each tier will now come under a uniform set of rules – the government will not negotiate additional measures with each region as it did previously.
Under the plan, the list of which tiers will apply in each area is set to be reviewed on a fortnightly basis. The government will announce these on Thursday 26 November and the Prime Minister outlined what factors will be considered when making such decisions. Decisions will primarily be based on five key indicators:
- Case detection rates in all age groups
- Case detection rates in the over 60s
- The rate at which cases are rising or falling
- Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken)
- Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.
Vaccine optimism and the expansion of mass, rapid testing capacity
Throughout his statement, the Prime Minister expressed optimism over the prospect of a wider roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine by the spring. As well as preparing a vaccination programme, the government will continue to push ahead with a mass testing programme as another means to control the virus. This includes further use of lateral flow testing – a test which produces results in less than 30 minutes.
As part of the Winter Plan, there will be greater resources dedicated to community testing for those areas that fall into Tier 3. All Tier 3 Local Authorities will be offered greater support from NHS Test and Trace and the armed forces to launch community testing programmes – similar to the programme recently run in Liverpool. It is hoped that community testing will offer a potential route to reduce restrictions overtime.
The Prime Minister also set out the government’s intention to introduce frequent testing as an alternative to the need to self-isolate, for people who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19. Instead, contacts will be offered regular tests as an alternative to isolation and only have to self-isolate if they test positive. This will be trialled in Liverpool first, then some institutional settings (e.g. the NHS, care homes, education, employers) before the end of the year, ahead of rollout across the country from early next year.
A commitment was also made to working alongside the Devolved Nations to ensure other nations also benefit from these advances in rapid testing.
Josh Hardie, CBI Acting Director-General stated the Prime Minister’s announcements bring more consistency and clarity, which helps support business planning and protects jobs.
But harsh measures and ongoing closures will continue to risk business failures in many sectors. For firms wondering what restrictions they will face, details of regional tiers must be laid out in detail on Thursday and regularly reviewed in the future. Further commitment to financial support will still be needed for thousands of struggling companies – particularly those in higher tiers still looking into the precipice
The CBI will continue to gather insight from members on what these restrictions mean for business and reflect this in CBI conversations with government. Businesses can send through anecdotes and questions to the CBI’s dedicated Coronavirus Mailbox.
England’s regional system of tiering will come into effect on 2 December, when current national restrictions will end.
The government is expected to announce the list of which areas fall into which tiers on 26 November – areas will then be reviewed on a fortnightly basis.
Businesses affected by restrictions can access government support – including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) – this is set to be reviewed by the Chancellor in January 2021. The CBI will continue to work closely with the Treasury to ensure any changes to business support reflect the reality of restrictions that businesses are facing.
Restrictions are different in the devolved nations.
The guidance on lockdown restrictions differs between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.