On 21 February the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the end of Covid restrictions in England with the Government’s ‘Living with Covid Plan‘. While many people will be glad to have their freedom back, small businesses will have to make tough decsions.
By ending all Covid restrictions in England, the Government moves away from government restrictions and towards personal responsibility to keep the population safe. Without legal backing, businesses are left to set their own policies to keep their staff and customers safe.
Small businesses are not only faced with setting and enforcing their own policies, but there will be a financial impact too.
What The ‘Living With Covid Plan’ Looks Like
The ‘Living With Covid Plan’ sets out the end of Covid restrictions in England. Since 24 February, it is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate if you have tested positive and/or have Covid symptoms. However, government guidance states that anyone who tests positive should still stay at home and avoid contact with others for 5 days. And only go back to their normal routine if they test negative on day 5 and 6.
It is also no longer a legal requirement, since 24 February, that close contacts of people who tested positive to test daily for 7 days if they are fully vaccinated. Or to self-isolate if they are not fully vaccinated. But the Government does advise people who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 to reduce the risk to other people. Contract tracing has ended on the same date.
At the same time as these restrictions end, The Health Protection Regulations in England have been revoked and the responsibility to manage local outbreaks has been handed back to local authorities. More importantly, the self-isolation support payments and national funding for practical support also ended on 24 February.
On 24 March the Covid-19 provisions for Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance will come to an end. This means that statutory sick pay, will be available from the fourth sick day, as before.
Free lateral flow tests (LFTs) and PCR tests will be scrapped from 1 April, but will still be available for a small at-risk group and NHS and social care staff. Domestic Covid-passports will be no longer necessary for venues in England from the same date.
With the end of Covid restrictions in England, it will also no longer be mandatory to wear masks.
The Challenges The End Of Covid Restrictions In England Pose To Small Businesses
With all legal requirements falling away, together with financial support, it’s up to small businesses what policies to put in place and this will be challenging. Here are some of the challenges small businesses will face with the end of Covid restrictions in England.
- Businesses will have to decide on policies regarding absences from work when an employee tests positive or displays symptoms. Keeping in mind the feelings of other staff and cost implications.
- With free LFTs and PCRs at an end, businesses will have to decide whether they will fund these tests for staff to keep them and their customers safe.
- Businesses have to decide on their policy on mask wearing, keeping in mind that some staff might be resistant, others might feel uncomfortable about them not being worn.
- Businesses will also have to strike a balance between making staff feel safe at work and enforcing rules, such as mask wearing, with customers, where there is no support in terms of legal requirements any more.
The Government promises to provide guidance to businesses to help them navigate the changed circumstances.
This is why we need to make sure that we’ve got really good guidance for employers. But as I say, there will come a time when the pandemic moves to more of an endemic approach to Covid, in the same way that flu and other viruses are treated, and that’s what we’ve got to get back to.Paul Scully, Small Business Minister
What About The Rest Of The UK?
The end of Covid restrictions announced by Boris Johnson only apply to England. The other nations make their plans independently.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has announced the end of the vaccine passport scheme and from 21 March the legal requirement to wear face coverings will be scrapped. However, the Scottish government advises people to still wear them in shops, pubs, public transport and similar locations.
The current rules for self-isolations will stay in place for now and LFTs will also continue to be free in Scotland for now. In addition, the self-isolation support payments will also continue.
Wales has recently changed its Covid alert level to 0. Since 18 February, domestic Covid passes are no longer required and since 28 February, face coverings are no longer mandatory. The Welsh Government is due to make an announcement about further changes on 4 March.
In Northern Ireland, the rules for self-isolation have not changed and testing and contact-tracing will stay in place for now. However, Northern Ireland’s Government has revoked all remaining Covid restrictions, such as wearing face coverings in enclosed places.
The end of Covid restrictions in England and changes in the other nations signals that the end of the pandemic might be in sight. However, with the removal of legal requirements, small businesses will have tough decisions to make.