6th November, 2020
Coronavirus Restrictions in England and Wales
On Saturday 31 October 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of new ‘lockdown’ measures in England, which will be effective from Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December.
This followed the earlier introduction of local Covid alert levels (or ‘tiers’) which were intended to avoid the need to have a nation-wide lockdown. The rising levels of Covid-19 in areas of England triggered the decision to have a complete lockdown for the month of November.
The decision also followed the announcement of a ‘firebreak’ lockdown in Wales which was in place from 23 October and will come to an end on 9 November 2020.
For many businesses, particularly those located on the English/Welsh border, the introduction of new measures will mean changes to the workplace. We have summarised the key measures for both England and Wales going forwards and what this means for both employers and their workers.
The English national lockdown is intended to run from the 5 November to the 2 December 2020. From 3 December onwards, it is intended that England will revert to the local Covid alert levels, which are based on the number of incidences of the virus within specific regions.
The key measures introduced by the government are to:
- Stay at home, except for specific purposes.
- Avoid meeting people you do not live with, except for specific purposes.
- Close certain businesses and venues.
Government guidance states that people must remain at home save for a number of specific purposes. This includes travelling for work purposes, or to work as a volunteer, where this is not possible from home. For example, those working in manufacturing or construction may attend the workplace, provided appropriate measures are in place to ensure that it is ‘Covid-secure’.
Employees who can work from home effectively should be encouraged to do so, to minimise unnecessary travel to the workplace. Employers may wish to consider providing equipment to enable employees to continue working from home.
Workers who cannot work from home, or who cannot attend the workplace due to its closure, can be placed on the newly extended Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (or ‘furlough’), subject to meeting the eligibility criteria. The CJRS has now been extended to March 2021 and full detailed guidance about the extended scheme is expected to be published on 10 November 2020.
Meetings and gatherings between people from different households are discouraged but may be allowed for work purposes, or for the provision of education or training. This will include work in other people’s homes if necessary, enabling tradespeople and carers to continue to provide services in the home.
The restriction on social gatherings has necessitated the closure of certain hospitality venues, including pubs and restaurants, except for the sale of takeaway food and drink. Non-essential retail stores must also close, although they can operate ‘click and collect’ services and deliveries. Personal care facilities will also be closed, including hairdressers and beauty salons.
The ‘firebreak’ lockdown introduced in Wales in late October will come to an end on Monday 9 November 2020.
First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed that new national measures will be in place in Wales following the introduction of a national lockdown in England. Those measures include:
– The need to maintain two-metre social distancing and wear face masks in enclosed public places, including on public transport and taxis will continue;
– The requirement to work from home whenever possible will remain;
– Up to 15 people can take part in an organised indoors activity and up to 30 in an organised activity outdoors, providing all social distancing, hand hygiene and other covid safety measures are followed;
– All premises, such as restaurants, cafes, pubs and gyms, closed during the firebreak, will be able to reopen.
For workers, the mandate to continue working from home where possible will still apply following the relaxation of the ‘firebreak’ lockdown. As with the English guidelines, residents in Wales who are unable to work from home may travel to the workplace provided the employer has taken steps to ensure that it is ‘Covid-secure’. Employers should not place their workers under pressure to return to the workplace where there is no business need to do so.
Businesses required to close during the firebreak may reopen but should ensure that they follow all of the measures in place, including ensuring that customers, staff, and visitors maintain a social distance of 2 metres.
The Chancellor’s decision to extend the CJRS (‘furlough’) includes Wales and will enable businesses in Wales affected by the pandemic to retain workers by using the scheme. The Welsh Government have also introduced a package of financial support known as the ‘Economic Resilience Fund’ aimed at supporting businesses adversely affected by the pandemic.
Of the £300 million fund, £20 million is ring-fenced for hospitality and tourism businesses, many of whom have suffered due to a reduction in visitors and customers during the pandemic and into the winter months. Eligibility can be checked through the Welsh Government website.
Any employees who have to travel across the Wales/England border to work will still be permitted to do so, provided that employers in both England and Wales follow the government guidance which is that employees should work from home where it is possible to do so.
If you are unsure about the impact of lockdown on your business, or the support which is available, then contact Debbie Coyne, Senior Associate in the Employment Law Team.
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