The government has released a document outlining its Covid-19 recovery strategy. Included in this document are further details of the three steps to easing restrictions that had been imposed on March 23 in the battle against coronavirus.
The changes to policy in this step will apply from Wednesday, May 13 in England.
For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible. This will help minimise the number of social contacts across the country and therefore keep transmissions as low as possible.
All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories.
The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and nonessential retail – restaurants, pubs, bars, gyms and leisure centres – which will remain closed.
As soon as practicable, workplaces should follow the new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines to ensure the risk of infection is as low as possible, while allowing as many people as possible to resume their livelihoods.
The rate of infection remains too high to allow the reopening of schools for all pupils yet. However, it is important that vulnerable children (including children in need, those with an Education, Health and Care plan and those assessed as otherwise vulnerable by educational providers or local authorities) and the children of critical workers are able to attend school, as is currently permitted.
The Government is also amending its guidance to clarify that paid childcare, for example nannies and childminders, can take place subject to being able to meet the public health principles because these are roles where working from home is not possible.
When travelling everybody (including critical workers) should continue to avoid public transport wherever possible. If they can, people should instead choose to cycle, walk or drive, to minimise the number of people with whom they come into close contact.
Government is now advising that people should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops.
Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically.
A face covering is not the same as a facemask such as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers. These supplies must continue to be reserved for those who need it. Face-coverings should not be used by children under the age of two, or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example primary age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions. It is important to use facecoverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.
SAGE advise that the risk of infection outside is significantly lower than inside, so the Government is updating the rules so that, as well as exercise, people can now also spend time outdoors subject to: not meeting up with any more than one person from outside your household; continued compliance with social distancing guidelines to remain two metres (6ft) away from people outside your household; good hand hygiene, particularly with respect to shared surfaces; and those responsible for public places being able to put appropriate measures in place to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidance.
People may exercise outside as many times each day as they wish. For example, this would include angling and tennis. You will still not be able to use areas like playgrounds, outdoor gyms or ticketed outdoor leisure venues, where there is a higher risk of close contact and touching surfaces.
You can only exercise with up to one person from outside your household – this means you should not play team sports, except with members of your own household.
People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household.
When travelling to outdoor spaces, it is important that people respect the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and do not travel to different parts of the UK where it would be inconsistent with guidance or regulations issued by the relevant devolved administration.
The infection rate will increase if people begin to break these rules and, for example, mix in groups in parks, which will trigger the need for further restrictions.
To ensure people are social distancing, the government has prohibited by law all public gatherings of more than two people, except for reasons set out in the regulations. These include:
- where the gathering is of a group of people who live together in the same household – this means that a parent can, for example, take their children to the shops, although you are advised to do so only if there is no option to leave them at home
- where the gathering is essential for work purposes – but workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace
Staying Safe Outside Your Home
It remains the case that some people are more clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 than others. These include those aged over 70, those with specific chronic pre-existing conditions and pregnant women. These clinically vulnerable people should continue to take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their households, but do not need to be shielded. Those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group are strongly advised to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact; this is called ‘shielding’. It means not leaving the house or attending gatherings at all, with very limited exceptions.
From Wednesday 13 May, the government is introducing higher fines for those who do not comply, to reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules as we begin to ease the restrictions, and people return to work. Once these new limits are in place, if the police believe that you have broken the law – or if you refuse to follow their instructions enforcing the law – a police officer may issue you with a fixed penalty notice for £100 (reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days).
If you have already received a fixed penalty notice, the amount will increase to £200 and double on each further repeat offence, up to a maximum of £3200. Until Wednesday 13 May, the fixed penalty notice is £60, reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. If you have already received a fixed penalty notice, the amount will increase to £120 and double on each further repeat offence, up to a maximum of £960.
Similarly, a business or venue operating in contravention of the law will be committing an offence. Local authorities (for example, Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers) will monitor compliance, with support from the police if appropriate. Businesses and venues that breach the law will be subject to prohibition notices and fixed penalty notices. Businesses that continue to contravene the law will be forced to close down.
For both individuals and companies, if you do not pay, you may also be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose potentially unlimited fines.
In order to keep overall levels of infection down and in line with many other countries, the Government will introduce a series of measures and restrictions at the UK border. First, alongside increased information about the UK’s social distancing regime at the border, the Government will require all international arrivals to supply their contact and accommodation information. They will also be strongly advised to download and use the NHS contact tracing app.
Second, the Government will require all international arrivals not on a short list of exemptions to self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. Where international travellers are unable to demonstrate where they would self-isolate, they will be required to do so in accommodation arranged by the Government. These international travel measures will not come into force on 13 May but will be introduced as soon as possible.
Changes will be announced at least 48 hours before coming into effect. To aid planning, the Government’s current aim is that the second step will be made no earlier than Monday 1 June, subject to conditions being satisfied.
A phased return for early years settings and schools.
Schools should prepare to begin to open for more children from 1 June. The Government expects children to be able to return to early years settings, and for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to be back in school in smaller sizes, from this point. This aims to ensure that the youngest children, and those preparing for the transition to secondary school, have maximum time with their teachers.
Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning.
The Government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible, though this will be kept under review.
Opening non-essential retail when and where it is safe to do so, and subject to those retailers being able to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
The intention is for this to happen in phases from 1 June; the Government will issue further guidance shortly on the approach that will be taken to phasing, including which businesses will be covered in each phase and the timeframes involved. All other sectors that are currently closed, including hospitality and personal care, are not able to re-open at this point because the risk of transmission in these environments is higher.
Social and family contact
The Government has asked SAGE to examine whether, when and how it can safely change the regulations to allow people to expand their household group to include one other household in the same exclusive group.
The intention of this change would be to allow those who are isolated some more social contact, and to reduce the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions, while continuing to limit the risk of chains of transmission.
It would also support some families to return to work by, for example, allowing two households to share childcare. This could be based on the New Zealand model of household “bubbles” where a single “bubble” is the people you live with.
In addition, the Government is also examining how to enable people to gather in slightly larger groups to better facilitate small weddings.
The Government’s current planning assumption is that this step will be no earlier than 4 July.
The ambition at this step is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons) hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas). They should also meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point or may be able to open safely only in part. Nevertheless the Government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.
In order to facilitate the fastest possible re-opening of these types of higher-risk businesses and public places, the Government will carefully phase and pilot re-openings to test their ability to adopt the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines.
The Government will establish a series of taskforces to work closely with stakeholders in these sectors to develop ways in which they can make these businesses and public places COVID-19 Secure.