National and local lockdowns have become an important tool in the UK government’s armoury to curb the spread of coronavirus.
In response to rising cases in all parts of England, during September and October, the government responded with a new local restriction tier system. However, latest data in December has now shown a rapid rise in case rates across all parts of the country, sparked by a new highly transmissible variant of the virus. To curb the R rate and prevent national health services from becoming overstretched, a national lockdown has now been implemented lasting from 5 January until mid-February.
What’s the latest information and insight?
On 4 January, the Prime Minister announced a drastic jump in cases attributed to the new variant of COVID-19, which scientists now confirm is between 50% to 70% more transmissible. The result of this has been a rise in the case rate in England to 478.5 per 100k on 29 December, three times higher than at the start of the month when the case rate was 151.3.
In light of this latest evidence, the widely adopted local tiered approach, where different restrictions apply in different parts of the country, was temporarily overridden by a national lockdown in all parts of the country. This is the third time during the pandemic that a national lockdown has been implemented.
The aim of the lockdown is to not only alleviate the burden in hospitals, many of which are at capacity for COVID patients, but to also assist the NHS in its rollout of the UK’s mass vaccination programme.
The restrictions are expected to last until the middle of February, at which point the government will undertake a review to assess if the situation in hospitals has improved. Alongside vaccination rates in the top four priority groups, the government will also continue to monitor case rates across the country before determining if the country can revert to the local tiered approach.
The restrictions include but are not limited to:
- Strict limitations on leaving the home apart for reasons such as, shopping for basic necessities, to go to work if you cannot reasonably do so from home, exercise with your household or seek medical assistance
- The closure of all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges, except for the children of key workers and vulnerable children
- The shielding of all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable
- The closure of;
- Non-essential retail, hospitality, and personal care services
- Restaurants, apart from for delivery, takeaway or click and collect
- Entertainment venues and animal attractions, alongside indoor and outdoor sports facilities
What it means for business?
The government guidance for this national lockdown places an emphasis on all those who can work from home doing so. However, taking lessons from the pandemic response to date, exceptions have been made for those who cannot work from home including but not limited to those who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing, as well as public sector employees working in essential services and where it is necessary to work in other people’s homes such as nannies, cleaners, or tradespeople.
At this time of increasing infection rates and fatigue from ongoing restrictions it will be vital to provide clear and accurate ongoing communications to your staff about working practices as well as additional health and wellbeing support, particularly to those juggling childcare and caring responsibilities.
Further details on the national lockdown guidance can be read here.
Considerations for businesses planning and responding to increased local restrictions
National and 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 local restrictions:
- 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 and case figures 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?
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 local restrictions really mean. 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 lockdown?
Requirements for vulnerable people will continue to shift, particularly during the winter months and given the wider public health context.
In light of current case rates and a highly transmissible new strain of the virus those that are clinically extremely vulnerable have now been told to shield. This means these individuals should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential, and should not attend work.
Make sure to take a read of this advice so that you are aware of what provisions you should make to enable those individuals who are vulnerable to work from home, change work patterns or alternatively work in a different role.
How long will the national lockdown last?
The national lockdown will last from 5 January to mid-February, following which restrictions will be reviewed on Monday 15 February. Factors including the hospitalisation rate, vaccination rollout out rate and COVID case rates will determine whether England can return to local tiered restrictions.
In the meantime, we advise businesses to remain vigilant of the national guidance and engage with your local authorities to understand the situation locally. 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. This is now particularly important in light of the new highly transmissible virus variant. 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.
What are the COVID alert levels compared to the local alert level restriction levels?
The Covid Alert Level system was announced by the Prime Minister in May 2020 to help determine how strict community social distancing measures need to be to curb the spread of the virus. It has five tiers from Level 1 to 5- based on the spread of the virus across the country, with 1 meaning the disease is no longer present in the UK to 5 representing a situation where the NHS is overwhelmed. At present the level has been set to 5.
Following the first local lockdown in Leicester in August 2020 and subsequent tightening of restrictions across the North and the Midlands in September, to prevent blanket restrictions being enforced across all areas of the country regardless of lower-case rates, a tiered system of local alert levels was created in October. The system has four levels setting social distancing measures and the extent to which business and social activities can continue as normal. These range from:
- Tier 1 - Medium
- Tier 2 - High
- Tier 3 - Very High
- Tier 4 - Stay at Home
At present the tiering system has been withdrawn whilst the country is under a national lockdown.
Lockdown restrictions in the nations
It should be noted that the guidance on lockdown restrictions differs between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At present all nations are in some form of temporary lockdown with differing time periods
- View the guidance for Wales which has been in a national lockdown since 20 December recently extended this further to 29 January.
- View the guidance for Scotland currently in a national lockdown until at least the end of January and will be kept under review.
- View the guidance for Northern Ireland which enforced a six week lockdown from 26 December and has now been tightened from 8 January to include a strict stay at home message.
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.
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.