What businesses need to know about ‘Freedom Day’
The UK government has announced major changes to coronavirus restrictions in England that will come into effect next Monday (19 July).
For businesses, moving to stage four of the roadmap out of lockdown will mean that, for the first time since March 2020, their operations will not be dictated by COVID-19 rules.
Hailed as Freedom Day by some, July 19 is the date from which all remaining legally enforceable social distancing rules will be dropped.
This includes guidance such as the two-metre rule, the rule of six, working from home and the legal requirement to wear a face covering indoors.
All remaining closed businesses such as nightclubswill be able to reopen and all capacity limits at sporting, entertainment and business events will be lifted.
For hospitality venues, the changes mean they will no longer have to provide table service and follow social distancing rules on site.
The government is advising all businesses operating in customer-facing settings to continue collecting customer contact details to support NHS Test and Trace.
For higher risk settings where customers and staff will be in close proximity with lots of people from other households, it is recommended that businesses use the NHS COVID Pass (which proves vaccination/negative test status) as a condition of entry.
Employers will still be legally required to manage risks to their staff, carrying out health and safety assessments regularly and taking steps to mitigate any risks identified.
This includes cleaning surfaces that people touch regularly, identifying poorly ventilated areas and taking steps to improve airflow, ensuring that staff who are unwell do not attend the workplace and communicating safety measures to customers effectively.
The changes will be a major boost for the UK’s embattled nighttime economy, which has been severely affected by forced closures and rolling lockdowns.
For the UK’s office workers, the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, with bosses expected to plan for a gradual return to the office over the summer.
The ‘Working Safely during COVID-19’ guidance details steps employers should take to make their workplaces COVID-secure and is broken down into 14 individual guides covering a range of different types of work.
The guides can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
Mike Cherry, National Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "Reopening on the 19 July will come as a huge relief especially to those who have been closed or restricted during most of the pandemic, including those in the nightlife sector as well as events and hospitality.
“We've waited a long time for this moment, and we need to see the economy restart and rebound as soon as possible.
"But small businesses want to see the new guidance being proposed by the government, to replace the legal rules, and the proposed ideas for voluntary certification and mask-use in crowded indoor settings.
“While we all want this moment to be irreversible, there is a potential for a challenging winter and so this summer needs to be a season of strong, safe trading.”
By moving from a system of legal guidance to voluntary guidance, the government is calling on individuals and businesses to decide for themselves the best way to act responsibly and stay safe during the next phase of the pandemic.
It is recommended that businesses implement their own “house rules” on social distancing, household mixing, mask wearing and capacity limits and figure out how to communicate these effectively with staff and visitors.
At this week’s press briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “This pandemic is not over.
“We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday 19 July to life as it was before COVID.
“We will stick to our plan to lift legal restrictions and to lift social distancing, but we expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport.
“We’re removing the government instruction to work from home where you can, but we don’t expect that the whole country will return to their desks from Monday.
“It is of course only thanks to the vaccine programme that we are able to take these cautious steps now. But to take these steps we must be cautious, and we must be vaccinated.”
- As of Monday 19 July, all legal restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic will be lifted.
- The government has released guidance on working safely during COVID-19 for businesses: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19
- Businesses should think about implementing their own house rules and communicate these with staff and visitors.