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 Organisation (WHO) defines coronaviruses as a family of viruses that cause infectious illness ranging from very mild to very severe diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Covid-19 is the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus strain, SARS-CoV-2. It originated in China at the end of 2019 and quickly spread as a pandemic worldwide.
Symptoms include a high fever, a new, continuous cough, and loss of, or change to, sense of smell or taste. Some may suffer from a mild illness and recover easily. However, in other cases people can become seriously ill and suffer a range of complications. The elderly, those with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and chronic lung disease are the most susceptible to serious illness and death. 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. Protection can be provided through Covid-19 vaccination. Vaccines not only prevent illness but also help prevent the spread of the virus.
The Covid-19 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 by frequently washing their hands with soap and water or using hand sanitiser gels. Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned regularly and people should not touch their faces with an unwashed hand.
Throughout the pandemic a series of public health restrictions have been required to suppress transmission of the virus and reduce pressure on health and social care systems. Measures have included compulsory self-isolation if infected, periods of national “lockdown” and the mandatory wearing of face masks in some settings, such as in healthcare premises.
A vaccination programme was rolled out in all areas of the UK during 2021. This has proved effective in protecting people and has allowed the Government to gradually ease restrictions. On 24 February 2022 the Government in England relaxed the last of its formal restrictions, that of legally requiring people to self-isolate if they have Covid symptoms or following a positive test.
With formal restrictions now lifted, Government guidance for the general public over the prevention of infection and transmission has been changed to advisory recommendations.
In February 2022 the Government published its strategy for living with Covid-19 in the future. COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19 is built on the fact that the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, is still a risk and will continue to circulate and evolve for the foreseeable future, possibly producing more dangerous variants. The document includes a range or advisory guidance for the UK population.
Vaccines will continue to underpin the response to Covid-19. Their deployment will continue to be guided by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
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. All health and safety law has remained in place throughout the pandemic.
What should you do as an employer in early years?
Early years providers should follow the latest official Department for Education guidance. Actions for early years and childcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic applies to all types of early years provision.
Early years providers must carry out risk assessments and use appropriate protective measures to keep children and staff safe. Health and safety risk assessments must consider the additional risk that the Covid-19 virus introduces.
DfE recommend that the following control measures are in place in all early years settings:
Ensure good hygiene for everyone (both regular handwashing and use of tissues, etc.)
Maintain appropriate cleaning regimes
Keep occupied spaces well ventilated
Follow public health advice on testing, self-isolation and managing confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Early years providers should do their best to ensure that children, staff and other adults do not attend a setting if they have Covid-19 symptoms, have tested positive for the virus, or for any other reasons requiring them to stay at home due to the risk of them passing on the virus. The latest Government recommendations on self-isolation are set out in online guidance, COVID-19: people with COVID-19 and their contacts. All children, parents and staff should be expected to follow the guidance and attendance rules should be clearly communicated to families. Note that in the latest guidance the requirement to self-isolate is advisory only. The legal requirement to self-isolate has been relaxed.
Children who become unwell while attending an early years setting should be sent home. Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn by staff caring for any unwell child with Covid-19 symptoms while they await collection where close contact is involved. Settings must ensure that suitable PPE is available and that staff follow the guidance in The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in education, childcare and children’s social care settings, including for aerosol generating procedures (AGPs).
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.
Enhanced cleaning schedules should cover all frequently touched surfaces. Schedules should include the more frequent cleaning of toilets and hand washing areas. Early years providers should consult Covid-19: Cleaning in Non-healthcare Settings Outside the Home for further guidance. Cleaning in Early Years Provisions
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. Areas with poor ventilation should be identified in risk assessments and actions taken to improve the flow of fresh air. Updated Advice on Ventilation During the Pandemic.
During the pandemic schools have been asked to carry out extensive asymptomatic testing. However, from 21 February 2022, staff and pupils in mainstream schools, and staff in primary schools and early years, will no longer be expected to continue taking part in regular asymptomatic testing. Instead, they are advised to follow asymptomatic testing advice for the general population.
According to the latest version of Actions for early years and childcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 27 January 2022, the Department for Education no longer recommends that face coverings be worn by staff or visitors in communal areas of early years settings.
In all other settings the Government has also relaxed the mandatory requirement to wear face coverings, although it still recommends considering wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces when rates of transmission are high, especially when in contact with people not usually met. Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.
Early years providers are expected to work closely with parents, staff and unions when implementing the control measures. Clear communication of policies and procedures is vital to ensure that everyone knows the rules and stays safe.
Children with special needs and those with education, health and care plans may need additional support during all stages of the pandemic. Others requiring additional support will include those who may have suffered mental health issues during the pandemic, including stress and anxiety, or may have been bereaved.
During the pandemic some people have been considered vulnerable to the virus because of underlying health conditions or illnesses. Some were identified by the NHS as “clinically extremely vulnerable” (CEV) and required to “shield” themselves and take additional precautions against infection. This may include some staff members in an early years setting. Public health opinion is that most people who were identified as CEV are now well protected after receiving their Covid vaccinations and are no longer at substantially greater risk than the general population. They are advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else on staying safe, including ensuring that they access Covid booster vaccinations, if eligible, and following any additional guidance from their doctors. For more information, see Guidance for people previously considered clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.
Early years providers should ensure that emergency planning and business contingency planning procedures are up to date. Contingency planning should cover what will happen in the event of an increase in local or national virus transmission rates and in the event of an outbreak of Covid-19 infection in the setting or community.
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.
Ofsted inspections have now resumed for registered provision, and the revised Early Years inspection handbook is effective from September 2021. Ofsted’s assurance inspections.
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.
Vaccines remain the best way for people to protect themselves and their families from infection and early years employers should therefore do all that they can to support the Covid vaccination programme. They should encourage their staff to access vaccinations wherever possible. Full vaccination decreases the risk of catching the virus and reduces the severity of symptoms if the virus is contracted. Following a successful “third” jab booster campaign for adults in the autumn of 2021, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended another booster campaign for vulnerable adults in the spring of 2022. For more information see the NHS Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination webpage.
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Last reviewed 4 March 2022