This toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for managing the coronavirus in the workplace. It provides links to key information and templates on the website. The information is being continually checked and updated.

Covid-19 — coronavirus

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are high temperature (fever), a new and continuous dry cough, and/or loss or change to the sense of smell or taste. Most people will only suffer mild symptoms. However, others will be very ill and recovery can be slow and difficult. Mortality is high, particularly in those most at risk such as the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, kidney and lung disease. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days. Some people infected with Covid-19 can be “asymptomatic” but still spread the virus.

Covid-19 is a respiratory infection. The virus spreads through droplets in the breath and when coughing. It can also survive for up to 72 hours on contaminated surfaces. People can protect themselves and others by covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and by frequently washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds during the day. They should use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned regularly and people should not touch their faces with an unwashed hand.

People who have symptoms of infection are asked to “self-isolate” by staying at home for 10 days from when the symptoms started.

The latest Government requirements for self-isolation can be found in Stay at Home: Guidance for Households with Possible or Confirmed Coronavirus (Covid-19) Infection. The measures are supported by widespread testing and by an NHS Track and Trace system which seeks to identify those who have been in contact with infected individuals.

A number of Covid-19 vaccines have now been authorised for use in the UK. A mass vaccination programme is being rolled out by the NHS during 2021 in a national campaign.

Employer duties

Employers should remember that they have a duty of care towards their employees and should take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their workforce, preventing them from exposing themselves to unnecessary risk. In this case, that may include not putting them in a position, for example, travel to a certain area, in which they could become infected by the virus itself.

What should you do as an employer in early years?

  1. Early years providers should ensure that staff and children follow the latest official Governement guidance on protecting themselves and others. Early years and childcare: coronavirus (COVID-19) includes essential information for early years providers to help them in planning “Covid-secure” policies, procedures and facilities.

  2. Sector specific information on the latest restrictions can be found in Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Early years provisions should remain open during the lockdown and continue to allow all children to attend full time or their usual timetable hours. This includes early years registered nurseries and childminders, maintained nursery schools, as well as nursery classes in schools and other pre-reception provision on school sites. Only vulnerable children and children of critical workers should attend on-site reception classes and other school provision.

  3. The national lockdown guidance states that pre-school children are generally less susceptible to Covid-19 infection and experts believe that they are unlikely to be playing a major role in virus transmission. In the view of the Department for Education, early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff.

  4. DfE state that it is a legal requirement for settings to revisit and update their risk assessments which should already have been used to consider additional risks from the Covid-19 virus. DfE suggest considering risk assessments as “living documents” during the Covid-19 pandemic and keeping them under “very regular” review.

  5. Actions for early years sets out a system of controls that must be applied in every setting. Controls should be based on a review of all relevant risk assessments. They should include action to minimise contact with individuals who are unwell, to encourage frequent hand washing, to enhance cleanliness and hygiene, to encourage good respiratory hygiene, and to be clear about the use of face masks and coverings.

  6. Staff should practice effective hand hygiene by washing their hands more frequently than usual or by using an appropriate alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Young children should be supervised to ensure they wash their hands more often than usual. They should also be encouraged to “catch” coughs and sneezes in tissues and then dispose of the tissues (“Catch it, bin it, kill it”).

  7. A requirement after the first lockdown to look after children under 5 in small groups or “bubbles” has been dropped and “normal” sized groups can be used. However, staff should take action to reduce contact between groups wherever possible. This is included in the system of controls advised in Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

  8. DfE is not currently recommending universal use of masks or face coverings in early years education in England. However, providers do have discretion to require face coverings for adults on site, both staff and visitors, in indoor communal areas where social distancing cannot be safely managed. DfE guidance, Face Coverings in Education, will further inform mask use policies.

  9. In England the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) staff ratios still apply. However, these have been subject to temporary relaxation in accordance with the Early Years Foundation Stage: Coronavirus Disapplications. The original disapplication order ended in August 2020. Updated arrangements cover the period until August 2021. The disapplication’s include a temporary change to the requirement for at least one person who has a full Paediatric First Aid certificate to be on the premises at all times when children are present. All other aspects of the safeguarding and welfare section of the EYFS framework still apply, including requirements relating to child protection arrangements.

  10. During periods of national lockdown, parents are advised to limit the number of childcare settings that their children attend, ideally ensuring children only attend the same settings consistently. This particularly applies to children attending a childminder before their nursery opens.

  11. Early years providers must ensure their workplace and work processes support appropriate social distancing. Providing a “Covid-secure” environment that supports such distancing may require adjustments to buildings, for example, making areas “one way” and introducing adjustments at drop-off and pick-up times to reduce the numbers of people gathering in one place.

  12. As part of their arrangements to minimise the risk of Covid-19 virus transmission, early years providers should consider the latest advice on the importance of ensuring good levels of ventilation. Updated Advice on Ventilation During the Pandemic.

  13. Staff or children who are considered as extremely vulnerable or “high risk” were subject to special “shielding arrangements” during the height of the pandemic. This arrangement was “paused” during the summer and autumn but was reinstated at the start of the January 2021 lockdown. Guidance on Shielding and Protecting People who are Clinically Extremely Vulnerable from Covid-19 provides more information on this group of people. Latest guidance is that clinically extremely vulnerable staff are advised not to attend the workplace and clinically extremely vulnerable children are advised not to attend education or childcare.

  14. Cleanliness and good hygiene standards are important to help to prevent infection and the spread of disease in an early years provision. This is critical to avoid diseases such as E.coli, Norovirus or the spread of winter coughs, colds and influenza and to reduce the impact of coronavirus. There has been a requirement to enhance cleaning throughout the pandemic. During national lockdown periods, this is even more important. Cleaning should not neglect outdoor areas. Hygiene.

  15. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned on a more regular basis. If a person with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 infection has been present in the setting, or in the case of an outbreak, additional “deep clean” arrangements should be implemented using appropriate disinfectant and cleanser, as advised in Covid-19: Cleaning in Non-healthcare Settings Outside the Home published by Public Health England.

  16. Ensure staff are aware of the best methods of reducing the risk of spreading infectious illnesses in an early years service. Early years employers should take all reasonable actions to enable staff to maintain safe (2 metre) distancing from colleagues and from parents or visitors. Infectious Illnesses.

  17. Parents and guardians should be asked not to bring their child into the service if they are unwell or are suffering from an infection. This is often referred to as an “exclusion” policy. It should be clearly communicated in leaflets and posters. Additional information should be provided regarding coronavirus. On no account should children attend an early years setting if they are unwell, if they are suspected to be infected with Covid-19, if anybody in their household is self-isolating, or if they have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

  18. Providers must effectively manage any case of a child or member of staff becoming ill with suspected Covid-19 infection while on the early years site. Providers should follow the guidance set out in Actions for Early Years and Childcare Providers During the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Outbreak. Any child or member of staff developing Covid-19 symptoms while on-site should be sent home with instructions to begin self-isolation. Covid-19 Symptoms at Nursery.

  19. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn by staff caring for any unwell children with Covid-19 symptoms. Settings must ensure that suitable PPE is available and that staff follow the guidance in Safe Working in Education, Childcare and Children’s Social Care Settings, Including the Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

  20. Communicate to staff regarding the organisation’s pay policies and keep up to date with the latest government legislation regarding Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Coronavirus, Self-isolation and Sick Pay.

  21. Ensure that you have clear absence policies and that staff are aware of them. The effective management of sickness absence is a key issue for employers, to ensure continuity and stability, and the smooth running of the organisation. Sickness Absence.

  22. Review policies covering emergency planning and business continuity. Include staffing contingencies and any anticipated seasonal pressures. Crisis Management Planning resources.

  23. Review work processes to see if any can be adapted to better safeguard staff. Make sure your Absence Management Policy and Sickness Absence Policy are fit for purpose under the present circumstances.

  24. Review work processes to see if any can be adapted to better safeguard children during the pandemic. See Covid-19: Guidance on Safeguarding Children

  25. Keep up to date with how to manage a potential Covid-19 outbreak. The local health protection team must be contacted if more than two cases of infection occur within 14 days. Guidance on Managing Covid-19 Outbreaks in Early Years Settings.

  26. Ofsted paused its programme of assurance inspections in January 2021 with the intention of returning to full graded inspections as soon as possible in the summer term. Ofsted’s assurance inspections.

  27. Ofsted must be informed if there is a confirmed case of Covid-19 at a nursery, childminder business or other day care. Tell Ofsted if You Have a Covid-19 Incident at Your Childcare Business

  28. A dedicated Public Health England advice service can be reached by calling the DfE helpline on 0800 046 8687.

  29. Early years providers must comply with all Covid-19 testing requirements and guidance. Providers should ensure that their staff and the parents of attending children understand and engage with the NHS Test and Trace process. Settings should ask parents, carers and staff to inform them immediately of the results of any test and follow the guidance provided in Actions for Early Years and Childcare Providers During the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Outbreak.

  30. In December the UK regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, authorised use of the first Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine. A major vaccination delivery programme was duly launched with the intention of offering vaccination to all adults in the UK by autumn 2021. At present the vaccines available are not approved for use on those under 16 years of age and there are no plans to vaccinate children.

Useful letters for managing staff

Last reviewed 25 March 2021