The publication of the Government’s Living with COVID Plan yesterday signals the end of the legal requirement to self-isolate on 24 February, though free testing for the general public will continue until 1 April. These changes apply to England only: different approaches are being adopted in the devolved nations.
Other important changes announced yesterday include ending self-isolation support payments from 24 February and the reversal of COVID-related changes to the SSP regime from 24 March (with 17 March as the cut-off date for rebate claims).
Despite the removal of the legal requirement to self-isolate in England, the Government’s guidance expects people to adopt essentially the same behaviour on a voluntary basis, at least until free testing ends on 1 April. There will be specific guidance for staff in particularly vulnerable services, such as adult social care, healthcare, and prisons and places of detention.
From 1 April, the Government will replace the existing set of ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance, as well as issuing new guidance to the general public to manage the risk of COVID transmission. It is expected that this guidance will require employers to continue to consider the needs of vulnerable workers, though this will not necessarily be in the context of a COVID-specific risk assessment.
Businesses in England face a period of transition from now until the end of March, while they wait for new guidance and assess the impact of the removal of self-isolation requirements on transmission.
While incidence of the virus remains relatively high, and free testing remains in place, many employers may wish to continue with their existing COVID protocols, despite the absence of legally enforceable self-isolation requirements. Others may welcome the additional flexibility that the removal of these requirements brings, where the associated risks can be managed appropriately.
[Edited on 24 February to clarify cut-off date of 17 March for SSP rebate claims.]