Opeyemi Ogundeji, researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, explores the latest on England and Scotland’s roadmaps and how the changes will affect businesses.
In England, given the widespread pessimistic predictions in the days leading up to his announcement, it would have been a surprise if the Prime Minister had said that the final stage of his roadmap to freedom had been successfully met.
In the event, and against the wishes of many of his backbenchers, Mr Johnson confirmed that the speed of transmission of the Delta variant of coronavirus, and the increasing number of people being admitted to hospital in England, meant that the easing of restrictions on 21 June 2021 could not go ahead.
Four more weeks, pushing “Freedom Day” to 19 July 2021, the Prime Minister explained, would give the NHS time to give double vaccinations to around two-thirds of the adult population including everyone over 50, all the vulnerable, and all frontline health and care workers.
In Scotland, on 15 June 2021, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that a review will take place to see if Scotland can move down to Level 0 from 28 June 2021. However, Sturgeon indicated that it is unlikely that Level 0 will happen on that date and it is more likely that a three-week delay/pause will be put in place so that Covid-19 vaccines can be rolled out to more people. Minor changes to restrictions may still take place despite a delay.
In addition, two papers will be published on:
what life will look like beyond level 0 as the country gets to the point where all, or virtually all, of the remaining restrictions can be eased
the outcome of the review into social distancing.
Wales has not yet indicated that there will be any delays to its roadmap
The most recent changes
England moved into stage three of its roadmap on 17 May 2021 which allowed pubs and restaurants to resume indoor service. Theatres, cinemas and concert halls were also permitted to reopen, as well as some sports stadia (at up to 10,000 people or a quarter of the stadium's capacity, whichever is the lower).
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, on 1 June 2021, gave an update on Scotland's roadmap out of lockdown, allowing Glasgow to move down to level 2 of the Covid alert system currently in place in the country, from level 3, as of 5 June 2021. This has meant that indoor licensed hospitality has been able to reopen, travel is now permitted between Glasgow and other parts of Scotland, a number of venues have been permitted to reopen, and outdoor adult contact sports have resumed.
Some areas in Scotland’s central belt did not meet the criteria to move from level 2 to level 1, meaning they are “paused” at level 2. These areas are Edinburgh, Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, Ayrshire (North, South and East), North and South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire and Stirling. The length of the pause is not known.
Finally, it was confirmed that Scottish Islands previously in level 1 could move to level 0 from midnight on 5 June 2021, meaning people can meet indoors in groups of up to 4 households and there’s no set nationwide closing time for the hospitality industry.
Although employers are starting to reopen their businesses after lockdown, in Great Britain (including Wales), individuals should only leave home for work if they cannot reasonably work from home. This has remained the same despite the lifting of restrictions; however, in England, the Government plans to relax this guidance from 19 July 2021, subject to the ongoing government review into social distancing.
In Scotland and Wales, there has been no indication of exactly when this guidance will change, so employers should continue to keep in mind that those who can work from home “must” do so.
This news represents disappointment for those employers who have prepared for many weeks to finally reopen their business and to relax some of the stringent restrictions on their businesses still in place in both England and Scotland. This may have included taking staff off furlough or hiring new staff if redundancies have been made.
Now, those employers will not only face delays in reopening but will also need to think about how they can keep their businesses afloat for the next few weeks; new furlough agreements being a possible next step. However, it should be noted that the furlough scheme structure will be changing on 1 July 2021 and employers will begin to contribute to the scheme as government contributions reduce to 70% rather than 80% of furloughed staff wages — at a cap of £2500. Affected employers will need to now consider whether agreeing to a new period of furlough with staff will be feasible for their business.
Where social contact restrictions are concerned, organisations will be aware that changes haven’t yet been announced. This means that businesses will need to retain their social distancing procedures and the carrying-out of risk assessments for at least the next four weeks in England, and a possible three weeks in Scotland. Whether or not this is a viable way for employers to continue to conduct their business will be determined by their individual circumstances.