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We’re on the road? The government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy

11 May 2020

The government has published its post-COVID recovery strategy, setting out a “roadmap” for gradually easing the lockdown, getting the economy moving and – eventually – returning the country to something approaching normality.

What does the roadmap say?

The new document, entitled Our Plan to Rebuild, sets out in broad terms the government’s approach to easing the current restrictions. The plan involves three stages:

  • Step one includes some easing of the restrictions on using outdoor space (subject to continued social distancing). It also includes some relatively small modifications of the government’s current guidance on work (see below).
  • Step two involves the phased reopening of primary schools and non-essential shops.
  • Step three will allow hospitality businesses (e.g. pubs), leisure venues (e.g. cinemas) and personal-care businesses (e.g. hairdressers) to start to reopen.

Step one begins this Wednesday 13 May. There are no firm dates for the start of the next stages, which will depend upon the progress made in halting the spread of the virus, but step two is currently anticipated to start around 1 June 2020.

Changes to work guidance

In the section of the document dealing with work (page 25), there are no significant changes to the government’s current guidance - merely a slight shift in emphasis. It says that “for the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible”. Those who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open, and sectors of the economy that are not forbidden from opening have been told they should do so. Only workplaces such as hospitality and non-essential retail should remain closed.   

The general guidance set out in the document includes the following:

  • It is possible to reduce the risks of transmission in the workplace by limiting the number of people with whom any given individual comes into contact regularly. Employers can support this where practical by changing shift patterns and rotas to keep smaller, contained teams. Evidence also suggests the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well-ventilated areas.
  • The advice about self-isolation for those with symptoms or in the household of someone symptomatic remains the same. As does the advice about “shielding” for the most vulnerable. The government hopes that increased testing will eventually mean that people will be able to return to work more quickly, if it can be established that they don’t have the virus.
  • Many parents with children at home will struggle to return to work until schools reopen. The document does, however, say that paid childcare can take place if public health principles (set out at Annex A of the document) can be met, as this is work that cannot be done at home. This may help some parents return to work.
  • Everyone is advised to avoid public transport when travelling to work wherever possible. Driving, walking or cycling are advised. If public transport cannot be avoided, social distancing rules should be followed and people should attempt to avoid peak travel times.
  • The government is advising people to wear home-made face coverings in enclosed public spaces, such as public transport. These are not to protect the wearer but others, if the wearer is infectious but not aware of it.
  • Employers should consider staggering working hours and expanding bicycle storage facilities, changing facilities and car parking.

The roadmap document was followed later in the day by the publication of more detailed guidance on working safely during coronavirus (Covid-19). This includes eight separate guides covering a range of different types of work: construction and other outdoor work; factories, plants and warehouses; homes; labs and research facilities; offices and contact centres; restaurants offering takeaway or delivery; shops and branches; and vehicles.

We are reviewing the detailed guidance and will be incorporating it into new FAQs on managing the return to work, which we will be publishing shortly. These will deal, among other things, with health and safety questions and with tricky issues about which employees could be asked to return to work.

What should employers do now?

In the meantime, the broad advice remains that anyone who can work from home should continue to do so. Those employers could start to plan for an eventual return to their workplace by drawing up risk assessments and considering consulting on them with employees. Office workers will, however, probably be working from home for some time to come and their employers should prioritise an assessment of homeworking health and safety.

Those employers considering reopening on Wednesday should take account of the new, detailed government safety guidelines mentioned above, but they should not feel pressured into reopening until they are sure they can do so safely. The most important preparatory step will be a health and safety risk assessment, following which employers must act to minimise Covid-19 transmission risks.

 

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