Living with Covid-19

The government has produced its 'Living with Covid-19' plan and a key element of this is that, from 1 April 2022, free universal testing is removed. The government has stated an intention to 'move away from deploying regulations and requirements in England and replace specific interventions for Covid-19 with public health measures and guidance'.

From 1 April, the government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with Covid-19 should take to minimise contact with other people. This guidance will no doubt be eagerly awaited by employers and businesses who will be at the forefront of managing the strategy moving forward.

This will be a complex balancing act for employers who will need to read the guidance carefully and make some important decisions relating to the safety of their workforce, clients and customers. This will be against the backdrop of removal of the last domestic restrictions. From 24th February, the government will:

  • remove the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test
  • no longer ask fully vaccinated close contacts and those under the age of 18 to test daily for 7 days and remove the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate
  • end self-support payments and national funding practical support (in addition, the medicine delivery service will no longer be available)
  • revoke the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations. Local authorities will continue to manage local outbreaks of Covid-19 in high-risk settings as they do with other infectious diseases.

In addition, from 24 March, the COVID-19 provisions within Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance regulations will end. People with Covid-19 may still be eligible, subject to the normal conditions of entitlement.

The government has stated its intention to help enable Covid-19 tests to be made available for those who wish to purchase them through the private market. From 1 April, there will be some limited ongoing free testing:

  • Limited symptomatic testing available for a small number of at-risk groups - the government will set out further details on which groups will be eligible.
  • Free symptomatic testing will remain available to social care staff.

This effectively means that if employers wish to make Covid tests available to their staff, the employer will have to pay for it. From 24th February, workers will not be legally obliged to tell their employer when they are required to self-isolate. From 1 April, the Government will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risk assessments. 

From 1 April, the Government will replace the existing set of 'Working Safely' guidance with new public health guidance. Employers should continue to consider the needs of employees at greater risk from Covid-19, including those whose immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from Covid-19.

Interestingly, the government suggests that removal of the requirement to explicitly consider Covid in risk assessments will help to 'empower' businesses. However, there is no doubt that this will present complex challenges for many employers, not least the need to balance confidentiality issues relating to employees' particular medical conditions against the requirements of the business more widely.

Employers will need to review their policies and procedures when the government does issue its guidance and many employers may consider taking specialist legal advice to ensure that they continue to comply with this complex landscape. It is fair to say that a scaling back of the Covid-19 safeguards and requirements by the government does not mean that employers can revert to pre Covid practices. Managing Covid in the workplace will continue to be a delicate balancing act for employers for months, if not years to come.

To discuss this or any other employment matter, contact us.