In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, the Government has announced new COVID-19 restrictions, taking a markedly more cautious approach than last year in the hope of avoiding a further winter lockdown. Restrictions for England are as follows:
- From Tuesday 30th November, it will again be compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport and in shops, although not in hospitality premises;
- Identified contacts of Omicron cases will be required to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccination status;
- All travellers arriving from overseas will need to take a PCR test on day 2 in the UK and will need to self-isolate until they receive a negative test result;
- Only British and Irish citizens will be permitted to enter the UK from countries newly placed on the red list, primarily countries in southern Africa where Omicron cases have been identified. Full details of the red list changes appear here. We can expect that other countries will be added to this list as cases are identified around the world. They will need to show a negative test taken within 3 days of departure and isolate in a Government-managed quarantine hotel for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.
As yet, the Government has not mandated working from home, limited social interaction or restrictions on leisure and hospitality. However, employers can expect staff to be concerned about the new variant, particularly as we await further details about its susceptibility to vaccines. Employers may wish to take a flexible approach to working from home, particularly for staff with compromised immune systems or other vulnerabilities to the illness, and should keep on top of Government announcements about the new variant.