Changing the mindset that a successful vaccination campaign means COVID-19 is treated like any other respiratory virus, is a difficult step after 2-years of treating it as something to be avoided, at all costs.
From Friday 2nd April 2022, in England, all remaining restrictions were removed, and COVID-19 has been incorporated into the public health advice for any respiratory infection, such as colds and flu. The key messages for which are:
- Get vaccinated;
- Let fresh air in if meeting indoors, or meet outside; and
- Consider wearing a face covering in crowded enclosed spaces.
The assumption in the guidance is that for the majority, individuals will not be and are not required to take tests to go about their daily lives. Just as previously, you would not have tested for flu to distinguish if you had more than a cold. Instead, if you are unwell you should stay at home until well enough to go out and about. Think back to pre-2020 when, if you were ill, you made personal efforts not to share your germs with everyone else.
Over the weekend, I have noticed that with other events in the world, the public message on the changes has been poor. There has been more focus by the media on the cost of lateral flow tests, than the point that for the majority, individuals are not required to use them anymore, unless requested to be by a health professional.
How will this affect workplaces?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have updated their website to remove specific risk assessment requirements unless organisations specifically work with viruses.
There is no longer a requirement to have a COVID-19 risk assessment or specifically consider it within the workplace risk assessment, unless for example, you are a laboratory working with the virus. As with anything though, it is important to consult with staff.
It will be a tricky few weeks, as those still with test kits may need to break the habit of testing either regularly to make sure they are not positive asymptomatic, or to be able to demonstrate their mild symptoms are not COVID-19. There is an expectation that you should go to school or work if you have no significant symptoms of a respiratory illness, therefore unnecessary testing will not assist the return to normality.
There is guidance for those whose immune system means they may be at higher risk. However, this is likely to be an individual consideration rather than driving people’s overall workplace arrangements.
What to do this week
Take time to read the updated information. For many organisations, the changes are a huge shift in expectations from their current operations. Therefore, understanding them will aid you in consulting with staff, meeting public health guidance and maintaining business continuity.
- Review all remaining COVID-19 controls in your workplace and establish what is remaining and what is no longer a requirement for your organisation.
- Communicate to your staff and others on what the changes are and your expectations, regarding attending the workplace or staying at home.
- Consider on a case-by-case basis if you have staff whose immune systems mean that they are at higher risk.
- Remember to check the local guidance and dates relevant to Wales and Scotland, as requirements are at slightly different stages to England.
If you do need any help or advice with the current situation, please get in touch.