Earlier this week the government published its COVID-19 response for summer 2021, setting out its plans for the move to step 4 in England (only). Step 4 is expected to commence on 19 July 2021, but this will only be confirmed on 12 July 2021.
When and if England moves to step 4, the government will no longer instruct people to work from home, and employers are able to plan a return to workplaces. All social distancing restrictions will be removed, allowing all businesses the freedom to operate again at full capacity should they wish to do so. The 'Working Safely' guidance will be updated to advise employers of sensible precautions that they can take to reduce workplace risks but this guidance will not amount to a legal obligation.
Businesses will however still be encouraged to ask staff and any customers to clean their hands regularly and clean surfaces that people touch regularly and to consider proper ventilation of indoor spaces.
Crucially and controversially for many of course, the legal requirement to wear a face covering will be lifted in all settings. However, guidance will continue to advise that wearing a face covering will reduce the risk of infection in enclosed and crowded spaces where individuals come into contact with those they do not ordinarily meet.
Individuals who are self-isolating must still continue to socially distance from others. It will remain a legal requirement for individuals to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace, regardless of their vaccination status. However, from 16 August 2021 those who are fully vaccinated with two doses will be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate if they are a contact of a positive case - though such people will be advised to obtain a PCR test.
The roadmap also advised that the COVID status certification review has concluded that mandatory certification will not be a condition of entry for visitors to any setting at the present time. However, it is possible that certification could provide a means of keeping events going and businesses open, if the country is facing a difficult situation in the autumn or winter. Any future implementation would involve consultation and appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.
Questions have been asked by employers as to what the position is for those considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable: we await further guidance to be published on that...