We start 2022 with a continued focus on COVID-19 and the challenges it continues to bring. We are seeing large numbers of new infections with the dominant variant in the UK now being Omicron; the variant which doubles in case numbers around every two to three days.
In the week up to 31 December in England, 1 in 15 people had COVID-19 as reported by the Office for National Statistics.
The fast spread of this variant means that we are seeing a greater demand for both lateral flow and PCR tests. There have been availability issues with both, as well as delays in the turnaround of PCR results, thus delaying people from leaving isolation.
We are also seeing high absence levels across businesses including the public sector, which is having a significant impact on key services such as the NHS and education.
Back in December, England moved to the government’s plan B in its continued response to the pandemic. This resulted in updates to the guidance around face coverings, working from home, testing and isolation.
This week the government have reiterated that the guidance set out in plan B continues to be appropriate and will continue until they are due to expire on 26 January (subject to a review beforehand). However, we are seeing further tweaks being made to general rules to combat some of the challenges highlighted above. For instance:
- From 11 January, people who test positive via a lateral flow test will not be required to follow up with a PCR test to confirm the result. This is a temporary measure. Lateral flow tests are for those people who do not have any of the COVID symptoms, so where an individual does have the symptoms, they must still get a PCR test.
- Furthermore, from Friday 7 January, pre-departure testing will no longer be required for travellers returning to England. Upon arrival in England, an individual will no longer need to self-isolate until receipt of a negative PCR test. Instead, a lateral flow test will need to be taken by no later than day two of returning and if this is positive a PCR test must be taken.
- The government has confirmed that in England, an individual may be able end self-isolation sooner than the 10 full days if they can show two consecutive negative lateral flow tests. The first must be taken from the 6th day (cannot be before) after symptoms developed and the second at least 24 hours after that. So long as both tests are negative and the person has not got a temperature, the self-isolation can end.
- It continues to be the case, that an individual who is classed as a direct contact of somebody who has tested positive must stay at home and isolate, but they will not need to self-isolate if they themselves do not have symptoms and they meet one of the following conditions:
- Fully vaccinated (ie have received two doses of an approved vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine)
- Are below 18 and a half years old
- Are in or have taken part in an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
- Are not able to be vaccinated for medical reasons.
3. A direct contact is defined by the government as:
- Somebody who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 anytime from 2 days before the person developed their symptoms or, if they did not have any symptoms, from 2 days before the date their positive test was taken and up to 10 days after
- Anyone who lives in the same household as another person who has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
- Anyone who has had face-to-face contact which includes being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one meter of the person
- Anyone who has been within one meter for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
- Anyone who has been within 2 meters of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)
- A person may also be a close contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle or plane as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19
- Anyone who has been identified as a direct contact and notified by NHS Test and Trace via text message, email or phone.
Statutory Sick Pay – medical evidence
In a bid to support the booster vaccination efforts, emergency legislation was laid before Parliament on the 16 December, which came into effect on Friday 17th December 2021. The Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) Regulations 2021, mean that an employer cannot ask for proof of sickness until the employee has been off work for 28 days or more, rather than the usual 7 days.
It applies to absences which began on or after 10 December, because those workers would not yet have been absent for more than 7 days when the law came into effect, and hence the requirement to provide medical evidence has not yet arisen.
Statutory sick pay rebate scheme
The government has re-introduced the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme which means that those UK employers who employ fewer than 250 people as of 30 November 2021, can claim back the costs of up to two weeks statutory sick pay for an absence that is connected to COVID-19. This is provided the employer had a PAYE payroll system as of 30 November 2021 and have already paid their employee’s covid-related SSP. This scheme is for those absences that occurred on or after 21 December 2021, and it is expected that claims can be made from the middle of January 2022.
- The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021 which were effective in England from 11 November 2021, require registered persons of CQC registered care homes to ensure that a person does not enter the premises indoors unless they have been vaccinated or are exempt. The result of this means that those working in adult care homes and anyone who enters a care home to carry out other work (such as hairdressers, maintenance workers etc) must show evidence that they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (unless exempt).
a. Further legislation will extend the requirement to be vaccinated from 1 April 2022 to the wider health and social care sector. It will include front line workers as well as non-clinical staff not directly involved in patient care. For example, receptionists, porters, cleaners and will apply to those services such as GP surgeries, dentists, hospitals, community services and where care is provided in a person’s home.
There may be some differences to how this has been implemented in care homes, for example healthcare employers (non-care homes) may be able to deploy staff who have had a single dose of an approved vaccine, if they have completed a full course of vaccination within 10 weeks.
Whereas registered care homes must ensure staff can evidence a full course of vaccination. It is believed this difference will be made to minimise the risk of staff shortages.
b. If somebody is exempt from the current legislation, there is a self-certification process they must follow to qualify. This is a temporary measure in until 31 March 2022 (although self-certifications must have been registered by 24 December).
2. It is thought, although not yet confirmed, that the government will define “fully vaccinated” to mean somebody who has had the first two jabs and the booster.
For more information or HR support, please contact us.