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On 08 December 2021, the Government announced that Plan B was being implemented in England due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus across the UK. It was suggested that cases were estimated to double at a rate of 2.5 – 3 days.

The latest information shows that there have been 339,861 people who tested positive between 02 and 08 December 2021, and that there were 161 deaths within 28 days of a positive test result reported on 08 December 2021.

The Government has stated that vaccines remain the best line of defence against the virus so it is hoped that the implementation of the new measures under Plan B will slow the spread of the Omicron variant to allow the NHS to vaccinate as many people as possible with the doses and boosters in the meantime. This will also allow for more data to be collected regarding the disease, its severity, and the vaccine effectiveness.

The key changes for employers to be aware of under Plan B are currently as follows:

  1. From 10 December 2021, face coverings will once again become compulsory in most indoor venues, unless individuals are otherwise exempt. This now includes community centres, libraries, crematoria, visitor attractions and entertainment venues (for example, museums, cinemas, and indoor theatres). However, in venues such as hospitality settings and nightclubs, face coverings are not required, as activities such as eating, drinking, and dancing (exercising) take place in these types of premises. Staff in public facing areas will be required to wear a face covering, unless exempt.
  2. From 13 December 2021, those who can work from home are advised to do so, unless this is not possible. The Government has provided advice on circumstances where it may not be appropriate for staff to work from home (for more information, see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do#work-from-home-if-you-can) For example, those who do not have the necessary equipment to perform their work at home, will still need to attend their usual place of work.
  3. From 15 December 2021 (subject to parliamentary approval), the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and settings where larger crowds gather (indoor events with 500 or more unseated attendees, outdoor events with 4,000 or more unseated attendees or any events with 10,000 or more attendees whether indoors or outdoors). Proof of both doses of the vaccine or a negative lateral flow test within the last 48 hours will be required, which can be evidenced via the NHS App.

The face covering regulations were due to be laid in parliament on 09 December 2021, with the remaining regulations to be considered on 13 December 2021. The measures are due to be debated on 14 December 2021 and so an update from the Government is expected promptly after the debate has taken place. Despite indications that some Conservative MPs will vote against the introduction of these new measures, the regulations are expected to pass with support from the Labour Party.

Whilst the Government has confirmed that the data will be constantly reviewed, the abovementioned regulations are set to expire six weeks after their implementation. However, the regulations are due to be reviewed after three weeks.

For most employers, this should now be familiar territory. However, in his opening statement at a press conference on 08 December, Boris Johnson confirmed that employers ought to use the rest of this week to discuss working arrangements with their employees. Employers are advised by the Government to consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing any health difficulties (mental or physical), or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.

For those who attend their workplace, the Government will continue to provide up-to-date working safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace. Businesses should consider this guidance when preparing their health and safety risk assessments and put in place suitable mitigations.

The policy behind this requirement is that, by reducing contacts in the workplace, this helps to reduce and slow transmission.

Despite the introduction or reintroduction of the aforesaid measures, there is no requirement for the public to cancel festive plans at this time. Although there is a requirement for individuals to return to home working, there is, by contrast, no requirement that the same individuals should cease engagement in any activities such as attending a work’s Christmas party so long as individuals are following guidance around other safety measures.

In light of this, employers are advised to exercise caution around the imminent restrictions and the risk posed by the Omicron variant, but to also ensure a clear, open dialogue is ongoing with their employees to so that everyone has an understanding about how to stay safe, the importance of social distancing and how to reduce transmission.

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