On 4 January 2021, the Prime Minister ordered a third English national lockdown, which came into force at midnight on 6 January 2021, and which will, at the earliest, end on 15 February 2021.
The lockdown order has been issued following the Joint Biosecurity Centre raising the UK's COVID – 19 alert level from level 4 to level 5, meaning that the virus is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially and there is a material risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed.
Repeat of the 'Stay at Home" message
The Government has issued a new "stay at home" order which largely reflects that of the first national lockdown of March 2020, in that we must all remain home save for limited exceptional circumstances, including where it is not possible to work from home; for voluntary work, for education and childcare, for medical or animal welfare reasons, to purchase essential items such as food and medicine or to exercise once a day, to move home, to escape from harm or visit someone who is dying, and for communal worship or attending weddings or funerals.
Businesses permitted to stay open
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 were approved by Parliament on 6 January 2021 and set out which businesses are permitted to remain open during this third lockdown:
Businesses permitted to remain open
- Essential retail – food shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, garden centres, building merchants and suppliers of building products and off licences
- Businesses providing repair services may also stay open where they primarily offer repair services
- Petrol stations, automatic only car washes, vehicle repair and MOT services, bicycles and taxi and vehicle hire
- Banks, building societies, post offices, short term loan providers and money transfer businesses
- Funeral directors
- Launderettes and dry cleaners
- Medical and dental services
- Vets and retailers of products and food for the upkeep and welfare of animals. Animal rescue centres, boarding facilities and animal groomers (animal welfare rather than aesthetic purposes)
- Agricultural supplies shops
- Mobility and disability support shops
- Storage and distribution facilities
- Car parks, public toilets and motorway services areas
- Outdoor playgrounds
- Outdoor parts of botanical gardens and heritage sites for exercise
- Places of worship
- Crematoriums and burial grounds
Businesses ordered to shut
- Non – essential retail (but such businesses can operate on a click and collect or delivery basis)
- Hospitality venues (but such businesses can operate on a takeaway/delivery basis)
- Leisure & sports facilities
- Entertainment venues
- Animal attractions
- Indoor attractions at venues such as botanical gardens
- Personal care facilities
- Community centres and halls (but libraries can remain open to provide access to IT and digital services, e.g. people who do not have it at home, and for click and collect services)
Educational facilities ordered to close
In addition, pursuant to the powers afforded to it under the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Government has ordered all primary schools, secondary schools and colleges to close and switch to remote learning, save for vulnerable children, or the children of key workers. Nurseries however may remain open. Universities should also switch to remote learning save for students undertaking training and study for the following courses:
- Medicine and dentistry;
- Subjects allied to medicine/health;
- Veterinary science;
- Education (initial teacher training);
- Social work; or
- Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled.
Government guidance states that students on these courses should return to face to face learning as planned and be tested twice (before and on arrival) or should self – isolate for ten days. Students on all other courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online.
Key differences from first English lockdown
There are several key differences this time round, including:
- More businesses are now able to operate including construction, dentistry, waste recycling centres, estate agents and those working in an individual's homes such as cleaners and tradespeople.
- Nurseries are permitted to stay open.
- Elite sports training can continue (but grassroots sports is not permitted).
- Places of worship are permitted to remain open.
- Permitted numbers at funerals has increased from 15 to 30, whilst weddings are permitted to take place in the most exceptional circumstances, but limited to a gathering of 6 people.
- Shops may offer click and collect services (providing that collections are made off premises) and hospitality is permitted to offer takeaway and delivery services (including takeaway alcohol, subject to a curfew of 11PM).
- Fines for those breaching the regulations has increased from £60 to £200 for a first offence, doubling on repeat offences to a maximum of £6,400 (which is an increase from £960). Additionally, for those who hold or are involved in holding an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police now have powers to issues fines of £10,000.
What does the future hold?
Looking to the future, and particularly due to this new variant, we expect the Government to refresh and possibly strengthen its sector guidance notes on COVID-safe workplaces on 'Hands, Face, Space, and Ventilation'. Indeed we may see a return to the strict 2m social distancing requirement as recently advocated by Sage, the usage of face coverings in all indoor workplaces and increased ventilation. Some Trade Unions are lobbying the Government to go back to the drawing board to look at the adequacy of the current control measures in the face of the new virus strain and its rate of transmission.
We recommend that employers continue to keep up to date with developments (including both Government and Sage guidance) and continue to keep their risk assessments under review. The more transmissible strain of the virus now in circulation in our view makes a proactive review of workplace risk assessments timely.
Please contact our dedicated Health & Safety team for advice on working safely during this pandemic.