Since the summer, local lockdowns have become an important tool in the government’s armoury to curb the spread of coronavirus. Following the first local lockdown in Leicester, the UK government subsequently created a framework and national watchlist to monitor spikes in outbreaks. However, recent months have seen a sharp rise in cases with a wider reopening of the economy, leading to more social interactions, compounded by the changing of seasons to autumn / winter.
What’s the latest information and insight?
On 31 October, the Prime Minister held a press conference alongside the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and Chief Medical Officer Professor, Chris Whitty, to announce that England will go into a second lockdown from Thursday 5 November for four weeks. Elsewhere, the devolved nations have their own COVID restrictions in force. At the end of this period, England will return to the tiered system outlined below.
On 12 October, the UK government announced a new COVID-19 alert level system to help simplify and standardise local lockdown rules. The new system places every area of the country into three-tiers. These are set at:
- Medium – covering most of the country and consists of current national measures, which came into force on 25 September. This includes the Rule of Six and the closure of hospitality at 10pm
- High – this reflects many previous local interventions, but with consistency across the country. This primarily aims to reduce household to household transmission by preventing all mixing between households or support bubbles indoors. The Rule of Six also applies in outdoor spaces, including private gardens
- Very High - where transmission rates are causing the greatest concern, based on an assessment of all the available data and the local situation. This includes the prohibiting of social mixing, with the Rule of Six allowed in open public spaces. The closure of pubs and bars, unless they can operate as if they were a restaurant, as well as restrictions on travel in and out of these areas.
Whilst the new alert levels place an emphasis on workplaces remaining open, the challenge for businesses is to understand the restrictions at each level and how they may impact operations. For instance, for some sectors, such as hospitality, leisure, and tourism, this looks very different for each of the levels.
Most importantly, it will be vital to provide clear and accurate communications to your staff on what each level of restrictions means for them.
Learn from the challenges and good practice from businesses already in further restrictions, what you should consider as part of your business risk mitigation planning and find answers to businesses frequently asked questions.
Please be aware this system is only in place for England and other parts of the UK may have different restrictions and guidance in place.
Considerations for businesses planning and responding to increased local restrictions
Build the possibility of further restrictions into your business continuity plans
Local lockdowns are on the list of continuity risks businesses face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s important for firms to consider how increased restrictions may impact them – and to make any preparations necessary to mitigate those impacts.
To create an effective plan, here are some questions businesses should consider as part of contingency planning for the implementation of new COVID-19 alert levels:
- Is your business likely to remain open or closed in the event of each tier?
- What are the requirements for social contact, and will this have an impact on your business operations?
- Are you aware of where your employees are based? Are the majority nearby, or in neighbouring localities that may have different rules / restrictions in the event of a new level being implemented?
- Are you aware of your employees’ childcare or other caring responsibilities?
- Does your business operate in or close by to any areas with higher infection rates? It is important to keep an eye on local outbreaks so you can see any potential new restrictions coming down the road
- Would you know where to go or who to speak to at your local authority in the event of a local lockdown? Find out which team is coordinating your local authority’s coronavirus response and build up relationships in advance with local councillors as well as your Local Enterprise Partnership
- Do you know what grants and funding you are able to access in the event of various levels of restriction? On 22 October, the Chancellor announced increases to financial support for businesses and workers.
Clear messages, clearly communicated
Ensure you understand any restrictions or measures implemented
One of the most important takeaways from previous lockdowns has been to ensure everyone understands and is aligned on what a local lockdown really means. What restrictions are in place, who can travel from where, what businesses can remain open? If you are in any doubt about what your local restrictions are, get in touch with the relevant team at your local authority. Your Local Enterprise Partnership is also likely to be a useful source of information.
Send out clear, reassuring communications to staff
Businesses previously impacted by the Leicester and Manchester lockdowns reported staff feeling anxious about being at work – particularly in cases where employees were travelling into the lockdown area, or where the business is based outside it but has employees commuting in from the lockdown area. Peoples’ emotional responses to new restrictions should not be underestimated - it’s important to build confidence for those still working that it is safe to do so, as long as social distancing and health and safety measures are followed.
To build confidence, clear, consistent communication from employers is key, including educating staff on what the rules are, how they should be followed, and any additional safety measures put in place for employees’ safety. If people receive conflicting messages or are unclear what the restrictions are – this can lead to anxiety about coming into work. Listen to employees’ concerns – directly if you can, or through employee groups – and try to respond to any questions or concerns about how you can remain open safely throughout the winter months.
Frequently asked questions
How do I support vulnerable staff in a local lockdown?
Requirements for vulnerable people will continue to shift, particularly during the winter months and given the wider public health context.
In each of the COVID-19 alert levels it is important for employers to put any necessary measures in place to help protect those who are vulnerable or shielding. Guidance has been provided by government in each of the specific alert levels for those who are clinically vulnerable. This is also supplemented with additional advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable. Make sure to take a read of this advice so that you are aware of what provisions you should make to enable people to work from home, change work patterns or alternatively in a different role.
How long will COVID-19 alert levels last?
There is currently no set point – in terms of the infection rate or the reproduction (R) rate – for what triggers increased restrictions or when they will come to an end. All coronavirus alert levels will be reviewed every 28 days whilst areas in ‘tier 2 - high’ will be reviewed every 14 days to establish if they require a move into ‘tier 3 - very high’.
It is worth noting that on 22 September the Prime Minister announced that guidance on work from home and the rule of six is likely to stay in place for up to six months.
We will update this factsheet when and if more government guidance is provided. In the meantime, we advise businesses to remain vigilant of the national guidance and engage with your local authorities if a new COVID-19 alert level comes into effect in your area. Many businesses based centrally, but operating across multiple geographies, will need to be aware of developments across the UK, which is part of the complexity of the situation.
How should businesses respond to outbreaks in their workforce?
Businesses have an important role to play in helping to minimise the impact of local outbreaks by having robust processes in place and following government guidance on when to escalate to local public health experts. If businesses experience more than one case of COVID-19 in a workplace, they must contact their local protection team immediately. Employers can find further guidance, including how to find their local health protection team, in the government’s test and trace guidance for employers.
The Institute for Government has provided some helpful guidance on local lockdowns – what they are, why they are happening – and which branches of government have the power to implement which measures.
Lockdown restrictions in the nations
It should be noted that, separate to the issue of local lockdowns, the guidance on lockdown restrictions differs between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Test and trace
Businesses based in an area impacted by a local lockdown are more likely to hear from the NHS Test and trace team. You can learn more about NHS Test and Trace in our dedicated factsheet.
Workplace Action Cards
The government has shared printer-friendly ‘Action Cards’ to help workplaces understand their responsibilities to identify, report and respond to coronavirus outbreaks.
By following this guidance, you can play your part to help prevent the spread of infection and reduce the risk of further disruption from COVID-19.
Self-isolating after returning to the UK
The government has produced guidance on employment rights for workers and employers on self-isolating after returning to the UK.