The Government announced that between 19 and 27 January 2022 the so-called ‘Plan B’ measures will come to an end. Read this blog to find out more about what this means for you.
What were the Plan B measures?
Due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant towards the end of 2021, the Government moved to Plan B measures. These involved:
- requiring face coverings in most indoor settings (eg shops and on public transport)
- requiring vaccine passports for certain events (eg nightclubs, large outdoor events and indoor events of more than 500 people)
- asking people to work from home where possible
- clearly communicating the need for caution to the public
Plan B was enacted to take all measures necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.
What changes will come into effect?
Between 19 and 27 January, the Plan B measures will come to an end, due to the strong uptake in Covid-19 vaccine boosters and how people had followed Plan B measures. This means that England will be reverting to ‘Plan A’, with fewer restrictions being in place.
Plan B coming to an end will involve:
- the end of mandatory Covid-19 passes – from 27 January
- the end of the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public venues, including on public transport (this means that people will not be criminalised for not wearing face coverings) – from 27 January
- the easing of care home restrictions – from 31 January
- the end of mandatory wearing of face coverings in classrooms for secondary students – from 20 January
- the end of the working from home guidance for workers – from 19 January
For more information on Plan A and what it entails, read our blog on The new Covid-19 Autumn and Winter Plan.
What do the changes mean for businesses?
Returning to work
With the end of the working home guidance, employers can plan their staff’s safe return to the workplace. Employers may, for example, consider a gradual return to the workplace (ie employees working in the office 2 days a week and working from home for the remaining 3 days per week).
Employers should ensure that the workplace is safe for staff (eg by requiring staff to wear face coverings, minimising visitors, using one-way systems and requiring frequent and thorough handwashing) and that they comply with any sector-specific guidance. For more information read the Government’s guidance, Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19).
Before reopening a business, employers must conduct a Return to work risk assessment and share the results with their employees. All reasonable steps must be taken to minimise the risk of infection.
Where a worker has Covid-19 symptoms (however mild) they should not leave their house to go to work. Instead, they should self-isolate and not return to work, in accordance with Government guidelines.
From 27 January, face coverings are no longer mandatory in most indoor venues. This means that businesses can decide if they want to require face coverings to be worn on the business premises. Terms and conditions should be updated to reflect any such mask policies and signs should be displayed on business premises to highlight any existing mask policies.
Businesses should however remain mindful of equality and discrimination laws (eg not everyone may be able to wear a face covering).
Certain businesses (eg nightclubs) and events (eg indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people) which were previously required to check NHS COVID Pass, are no longer required to do so from 27 January. Checking NHS COVID Passes was a method of COVID-status certification allowing people to demonstrate that they’re at a lower risk of carrying COVID-19 and transmitting it to others (eg through vaccination, testing or natural immunity).
Businesses can, however, continue to check NHS COVID Passes to reduce the risk of transmission at venues or events. As with face coverings, businesses should update their Terms and conditions to reflect such changes and should display signs about their COVID-status certification policy, while remaining mindful of equality and discrimination laws (eg not everyone may be able to get vaccinated).
What do the changes mean for individuals?
Face coverings and COVID Passes
While the wearing of face coverings are no longer be mandatory in most public indoor venues, it is still advised that people were face coverings in enclosed and/or crowded spaces, particularly when meeting strangers. Similarly, while secondary school students are no longer required to wear face coverings in classrooms (with the Department of Education intending to remove guidance on their use in communal areas shortly), schools (and students) may continue the wearing of face coverings.
Individuals should, however, remain mindful that different businesses may have different requirements regarding the wearing of face coverings and the checking of NHS COVID Passes. While neither will be required, businesses may continue to choose to ask customers, visitors and staff to wear face coverings while on business premises or to ask them to prove their Covid-status using NHS COVID Passes. Individuals should check business terms and conditions to see what they say and look out for any signs setting out a business’ mask and/or COVID Pass requirements.
Returning to work
With the end of the working home guidance, staff may be asked to return to the workplace. Your employers should take the necessary steps to ensure that the workplace follows the safety guidelines. Where your workplace is open but you don’t wish to go into the office, you should speak to your employer about the possibility of working remotely and make a Flexible working request. Employers should listen to employees who are worried about going to work and should take steps to protect everyone.
For more information, read Coronavirus Legal Help for Individuals.
With the end of Plan B measures, the restrictions on care homes and care home visits will be eased.
From 31 January, there will no longer be a limit on the number of visitors allowed in care homes. Similarly, self-isolation periods will be reduced (to 10 days for anyone who test positive, with further reductions if they test negative on days 5 and 6) and the isolation periods for anyone in care after an emergency hospital visit will be reduced to a maximum of 10 days. The requirements for testing or self-isolation following normal visits out will also be removed.
More detailed guidance is expected in due course.
Are other measures expected?
While little is known of other possible measures, the Government will continue to keep the situation under review and will update guidelines and any restrictions accordingly, using vaccines to further suppress the virus.
The Government does, however, intend to end the legal requirement for individuals to self-isolate after they test positive for Covid. While such self-isolation requirements will remain in place, for now, the guidance may be replaced in future. With the current self-isolation regulations expiring on 24 March, the Government does not currently expect to renew them. Further, the Government has said that it will “seek a vote… to bring the date forward” if the data allows.
Remember to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns.