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 World Health Organization (WHO) describes coronaviruses (CoV) as a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This particular episode, which first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has been named “Covid–19” and labelled a pandemic.

According to the NHS, the most common symptoms 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.

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

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.

The latest Government requirements 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 national “lockdown” was introduced in the early stages of the pandemic. During this period schools and early years settings were closed, as well as places where people gathered such as pubs, restaurants, sporting events and shops. Restrictions were relaxed in the summer when infection transmission rates fell and schools reopened in September. However, a “second wave” of infection combined with winter illness pressures on the NHS necessitated a second lockdown through November and the introduction of a three tiered system of localised restrictions which it is proposed will remain in place through the early part of 2021.

In December a vaccine was authorised for use in the UK. A mass vaccination programme was launched which will be rolled out over the winter and during 2021, starting with the most vulnerable groups.

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 guidance on protecting themselves and others. In England the Department for Education has published Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This includes essential information for early years providers to help them in planning “Covid-secure” policies, procedures and facilities.

  2. The guidance 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.

  3. 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”).

  4. An earlier requirement to look after children under 5 in small groups or “bubbles” has been dropped in the latest guidance and “normal” sized groups can be used. However, staff should take action to reduce contact between groups wherever possible. When caring for children over the age of 5 advice on group sizes is set out by DfE in Protective measures for holiday and after-school clubs, and other out-of-school settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Early years providers should carry out the necessary risk assessments and ensure their workplace and work processes support 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.

  8. 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

  9. Staff or children who are considered as extremely vulnerable or “high risk” were subject to special “shielding arrangements” during the height of the pandemic. The current guidance for the clinically extremely vulnerable is that shielding has been paused. Guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19 provides more information on this group of people.

  10. 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. Hygiene.

  11. 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.

  12. Ensure staff are aware of the best methods of reducing the risk of spreading infectious illnesses in an early years service. Infectious illnesses.

  13. 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. Illnesses and Infections.

  14. 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 Safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care settings, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Covid-19 symptoms at nursery

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Review policies covering emergency planning and business continuity. Include staffing contingencies and anticipated winter pressures. Crisis Management Planning

  18. 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.

  19. Review work processes to see if any can be adapted to better safeguard children during the pandemic. See Covid-19: guidance on safeguarding children

  20. Keep up to date with how to manage a potential Covid-19 outbreak. Guidance on managing Covid-19 outbreaks in early years settings.

  21. Formal inspections of early years settings were cancelled at the start of the pandemic. Ofsted have announced that from January 2021 they will carry out “assurance inspections” under the Education Inspection Framework. The purpose of the visits will be to find out what it is like for children in their early years setting and to seek assurance that providers continue to meet their registration requirements. Inspectors will consider the requirements of the EYFS and the visits will result in a “met” or “not met” outcome and a published report. Routine formal inspections will be resumed in April 2021. Ofsted announces phased return to inspections

  22. 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

  23. 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. At present the vaccine available is not licensed for use on those under 16 years of age.

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Last reviewed 15 December 2020