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Coronavirus advice for employers

People in Britain are allowed to leave their homes for only “very limited purposes”, such as shopping for basic necessities; for one form of exercise a day; for any medical need; and to travel to and from work when “absolutely necessary”.

Recent developments

Prime Minister’s address

Last night (23 March), Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a major ramping up of coronavirus measures. From last night, people in Britain are allowed to leave their homes for only “very limited purposes”, such as shopping for basic necessities; for one form of exercise a day; for any medical need; and to travel to and from work when “absolutely necessary”.

Key points from the PM’s address:

  • People have been warned not to meet friends or family members who they do not live with;

  • Shopping is only permitted for essentials like food and medicine, and people are advised to do it “as little as you can”;

  • Police have powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings;

  • All shops selling non-essential goods, such as clothing and electronic stores, are ordered to close;

  • Libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship are to close;

  • All gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with – are banned;

  • All social events, including weddings and baptisms are banned;

  • Funerals are not included in the new restrictions;

  • Parks will remain open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed;

  • The restrictions are “under constant review” and will be checked again in three weeks. They will be relaxed “if the evidence shows we are able to”, said the prime minister.

Further businesses and premises to close

Guidance has been issued detailing the closure of all non-essential businesses and premises as part of further social distancing measures. All non-essential premises must now close. Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational in line with guidance on Friday 20 March. Online retail is still open and encouraged and postal and delivery service will run as normal. Retail and public premises which are expected to remain open must follow certain measures, detailed in the guidance.

Other developments:

  • The head of the World Health Organization has said the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating”;

  • British travellers have been urged to return home immediately (see below);

  • There are reports of many non-critical workers in the UK are still turning up to do their jobs because their employers are asking them to;

  • Some businesses are unsure if the new measures apply to them – such as the construction industry. People should work from home “wherever possible” but there will be exceptions. For example, plumbers may be called out to emergencies;

  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak will outline more help for self-employed workers later today;

  • Deliveries of “non-essential” goods such as toys and clothes can continue under the new measures;

  • In terms of visiting elderly relatives, maintaining contact through social media is the ideal but it is permissible to drop off items or groceries etc if they are unable to visit a shop themselves.

The UK’s full guidance on the new measures can be found here.

Latest figure

The number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 300,000 globally.

According to the WHO’s latest Situation Report [23 March 2020], there are:


  • 332,930 confirmed;

  • 14,510 deaths.

European Region

  • 171,424 confirmed;

  • 8,743 deaths

Figures from Worldometer show:


  • 6,650 confirmed cases;

  • 335 deaths.


  • 1,125 confirmed cases;

  • 6 deaths.

Olympic Games

The Head of Health and Safety for the London Olympics has called on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the 2020 games. According to Lawrence Waterman OBE, Chairman of the British Safety Council, the games cannot go ahead as planned without putting people in Japan, athletes and visitors at risk. Social distancing requirements in place amongst many competitor nations are currently preventing athletes from training safely.

School closures and key workers

Parents have been told that if you can keep your children at home, do so. But key workers still have the right to send their children to school. These are workers in:

  • Health and social care, including doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff;

  • Education and childcare;

  • Key public services including those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, “those responsible for the management of the deceased”, and journalists and broadcasters who provide public service broadcasting;

  • Local and national government;

  • Food and other necessary goods, including those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery;

  • Public safety and national security, including police and support staff; Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel; fire and rescue service employees, border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles;

  • Transport;

  • Utilities, communication and financial services.

Online isolation notes launched

People unable to work for more than seven days because of coronavirus can obtain an isolation note through a new online service. Isolation notes will provide employees with evidence for their employers that they have been advised to self-isolate due to coronavirus, either because they have symptoms or they live with someone who has symptoms, and so cannot work. As isolation notes can be obtained without contacting a doctor, this will reduce the pressure on GP surgeries and prevent people needing to leave their homes.

For the first seven days off work, employees can self-certify so they don’t need any evidence for their employer. After that, employers may ask for evidence of sickness absence. Where this is related to having symptoms of coronavirus or living with someone who has symptoms, the isolation note can be used to provide evidence of the advice to self-isolate. People who need to claim Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance because of coronavirus will not be required to produce a fit note or an isolation note.

The notes can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online.

For more information, click here.

Emergency bill to strengthen coronavirus (COVID-19) response plans

Emergency measures to give ministers powers to take the right action at the right time to respond effectively to the progress of the coronavirus outbreak will be introduced to Parliament this week, the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

The measures in the coronavirus bill are temporary, proportionate to the threat, will only be used when strictly necessary and will be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation.See below for more details.

Vulnerable groups

Chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty advises that the group of people who should take “particular care to minimise their social contact” are:

  • People over the age of 70

  • Other adults who would normally be advised to have the flu vaccine (such as those with chronic diseases);

  • Pregnant women.

Health and wellbeing considerations for home working and self-isolation

Many businesses have begun to embrace the idea of flexible working and working from home and, in the current climate, more and more of us may find ourselves plunged into doing so for longer than the one to two days a week, which employers and employees adapt to fairly easily, potentially leading to increased work-related stress and mental health conditions for employers.

It is predicted that by 2020, half of UK’s workforce will work from home, according to the Office for National Statistics. SHP, Barbour EHS and The Healthy Work Company have compiled a home working hub to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the health and wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future and how to maintain a positive mental health and limit stress, as well as helpting to create a healthy workplace for individuals.

COVID-19: stay at home guidance

Public Health England has issued stay at home guidance for:

  • People with symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus, and do not require hospital treatment, who must remain at home until they are well;

  • Those living in households with someone who shows symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus.

How do I know if I have coronavirus?

BBC News’ Health and Science Reporter, Laura Foster, takes a look in this short video.

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Can employers be prosecuted if employees are exposed to COVID-19?

Amidst all the coronavirus headlines, some commentators have speculated that employers may be about to face prosecution if they don’t take all precautions possible to protect staff and third parties from infection. Is this really the case, find out here?

Supermarkets ask customers to stop stockpiling

UK retailers including Tesco and Sainsbury’s urge customers to resist stockpiling due to coronavirus, which is disrupting supply chains, SHD Logistics Editor Kirsty Adams spoke to the Chief Executive officer of cold chain operator Fowler Welch and two renowned supply chain academics about the risk, resilience and preparation behind grocery warehousing and supply.

UK Budget 2020

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £30bn package to help the economy get through the coronavirus outbreak in his Budget on 11 March. He added that the NHS would get “whatever resources it needs”.

The measures put in place to mitigate the effect of the coronavirus outbreak include:

  • £5bn emergency response fund to support the NHS and other public services;

  • Statutory sick pay will be paid to all those who choose to self-isolate, even if they don’t have symptoms;

  • Those on employee benefits who get ill will be able to “claim from day one instead of day eight”;

  • A £500m “hardship fund” to be given to local authorities to help vulnerable people in their areas;

  • Firms with fewer than 250 staff will be refunded for sick pay payments for two weeks;

  • Small and medium-sized businesses will be able to access “business interruption” loans of up to £1.2m;

  • Business rates will be abolished for firms in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with a rateable value below £51,000. The measure will apply to firms including shops, cinemas, restaurants and hotels;

  • “Fiscal loosening” of £18bn to support the economy this year, taking the total fiscal stimulus to £30bn.

Coronavirus pandemic

On 11 March, the outbreak was labelled a coronavirus pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO Chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of cases outside China had increased 13-fold over the past two weeks. He said he was “deeply concerned” by “alarming levels of inaction” over the virus.

A pandemic is a disease that is spreading in multiple countries around the world at the same time.

Local elections postponed

The government has announced that May’s local and mayoral elections in England will be postponed for a year due to the coronavirus outbreak. It comes after the Electoral Commission said the polls should be delayed until the autumn to “mitigate” the impact of the virus.

Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19

The World Health Organization has set out guidance on how businesses and employers can help to stop the spread of the new coronavirus disease.

How does coronavirus spread? When someone who has COVID-19 coughs or exhales they release droplets of infected fluid. Most of these droplets fall on nearby surfaces and objects – such as desks, tables or telephones.

People could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects – and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If they are standing within one meter of a person with COVID-19 they can catch it by breathing in droplets coughed out or exhaled bythem. In other words, COVID-19 spreads in a similar way to flu.

Preventing coronavirus in the workplace The guidance stresses that employers should start taking these the following measures now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where they operate:

  • Make sure your workplaces are clean and hygienic.

  • Surfaces (eg desks and tables) and objects (eg telephones, keyboards) need to be wiped with disinfectant regularly

  • Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers.

  • Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled;

  • Display posters promoting hand-washing;

  • Offer guidance from occupational health and safety officers;

  • Make sure that staff, contractors and customers have access to places where they can wash hands with soap and water

  • Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace.

  • Display posters promoting respiratory hygiene. Combine this with other communication measures;

  • Ensure tissues are available at your workplaces, for those who develop a runny nose or cough at work, along with closed bins for hygienically disposing of them;

  • Advise employees and contractors to consult national travel plans before going on business trips.

  • Brief your employees, contractors and customers that if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home.

  • Make clear to employees that they will be able to count this time off as sick leave.

The guidance goes on to advise on procedures for employees who travel (before travelling, during and after), and sets out advice for getting a business ready should COVID-19 arrive in the workplace. It is stressed that simple a precautionary measure and planning can make a big difference. Action now will help protect your employees and your business.

COVID-19 – What does your organisation need to do to stay on the right side of the criminal law?

Your organisation is now making preparations for the coming coronavirus pandemic and you are deluged with specific concerns, information and action plans that need to be developed. Amongst the many questions being asked by the Board, should be a cut through question: ‘What are our health and safety criminal law obligations in dealing with the Coronavirus, what do we have to do and how can we protect ourselves from blame if we get it wrong?’

Read Lawyer Simon Joyston-Bechal’s take on it here.

Coronavirus action plan. A guide to what you can expect across the UK

In February, the government declared coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat” to public health, as it announced new powers to fight its spread. Under the measures, people can now be forcibly quarantined and will not be free to leave. On 3 March, the government revealed its coronavirus action plan. It believes that in a “stretching scenario”, up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of an epidemic. Some points from the government’s briefing include the following:

  • A possible delay strategy could be used to move the peak of the outbreak to warmer months so that it does not overlap with normal flu and allows more time for research;

  • There are plans ready for a range of outcomes, from mild pandemic with low impact on services (like Swine Flu in 2009) through to severe and prolonged pandemic;

  • There are plans for the Ministry of Defence to provide support to Civilian Authorities if requested;

  • If the disease becomes established in the UK, further measures to be considered include closing schools, home working and reducing large-scale gatherings;

  • Police would concentrate on serious crimes and maintaining public order if a lot of officers are on sick leave, in the case of the disease being fully established;

  • There could well be an increase in deaths, particularly amongst the vulnerable and elderly;

  • Concessions may be made by tax officials if businesses struggle to pay tax bills;

  • Some non-urgent care in the NHS may be delayed to focus on treating coronavirus patients;

  • Recently retired doctors and nurses may be called back to work.

While the vast majority of patients will have a mild to moderate illness, similar to seasonal flu, a minority will require hospital care and a small proportion could die, the plans warn.

The policy paper, issued by the Department of Health and Social Care, details what the health and social care system across the UK has done to tackle the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, and what it plans to do next.

It is based on the government’s experience dealing with other infectious diseases and its influenza pandemic preparedness work. It is stressed that the exact response to coronavirus (COVID-19) will be tailored to the nature, scale and location of the threat in the UK, as understanding of this develops.

This document sets out:

  • What is known about the virus and the disease it causes;

  • How government have planned for an infectious disease outbreak such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak;

  • The actions taken so far in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak;

  • What government are planning to do next, depending on the course the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak takes;

  • The role the public can play in supporting this response, now and in the future.

The current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which began in December 2019, presents a significant challenge for the entire world, says the Department. The UK government and devolved administrations, including the health and social care system, have planned extensively over the years for an event like this, it says. Therefore, it is stressed that the UK is well prepared to respond in a way that offers substantial protection to the public.

The initial response to the outbreak had the fundamental objectives to deploy phased actions to Contain, Delay, and Mitigate any outbreak, using Research to inform policy development. The different phases, types and scale of actions depends upon how the course of the outbreak unfolds over time, said the plan. The overall phases of the plan to respond to COVID-19 are as follows:

  • Contain: detect early cases, follow up close contacts, and prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible;

  • Delay: slow the spread in this country, if it does take hold, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from the winter season;

  • Research: better understand the virus and the actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population; innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; use the evidence to inform the development of the most effective models of care;

  • Mitigate: provide the best care possible for people who become ill, support hospitals to maintain essential services and ensure ongoing support for people ill in the community to minimise the overall impact of the disease on society, public services and on the economy.

Ultimately, the response to COVID-19 is guided by the international situation, the advice of organisations such as the WHO, surveillance, data modelling based on the best available evidence and the recommendations of expert bodies.

System wide response plans for pandemic influenza, focused on the continuity of public and critical services and the stability of the economy, have been adapted for COVID-19, based on the best available scientific evidence and advice. Click here for the latest information on the current situation.

It is stressed that the nature and scale of the response depends on the course of the disease, which cannot be predicted accurately at this point. As understanding of the disease increases and its impact becomes clearer, the government will issue further detailed advice about what to expect if/when further measures become necessary.

Coronavirus delay phase

In addition to actions taken as part of the Contain phase, the plan emphasises the actions that people can be taking themselves to help delay the peak of the infection; especially encouraging people to wash hands more often; and the catch it, bin it, kill it strategy for those with coughs and sneezes.

Delaying the spread of the disease requires everyone to follow the advice set out in this document. The benefits of doing so are that if the peak of the outbreak can be delayed until the warmer months, the risk of overlapping with seasonal flu and other challenges (societal or medical) that the colder months bring can be significantly reduced.

The role the public can play

The plan stresses that everyone can help support the UK’s response by:

  • Following public health authorities’ advice, for example on hand washing;

  • Reducing the impact and spread of misinformation by relying on information from trusted sources;

  • Checking and following the latest FCO travel advice when travelling and adhering to travel plans;

  • Ensuring you and your family’s vaccinations are up to date as this will help reduce the pressure on the NHS/HSCNI through reducing vaccine-preventable diseases;

  • Checking on elderly or vulnerable family, friends and neighbours using NHS 111 (or NHS 24 in Scotland or NHS Direct Wales) (including online, where possible), pharmacies and GPs responsibly, and go to the hospital only when you really need to;

  • Being understanding of the pressures the health and social care systems may be under, and receptive to changes that may be needed to the provision of care to you and your family;

  • Accepting that the advice for managing COVID-19 for most people will be selfisolation at home and simple over the counter medicines;

  • Checking for new advice as the situation changes.

Coronavirus: Advice for businesses

The UK Government is advising businesses to build their own resilience by reviewing their business continuity plans and following the advice for employers available here.

Businesses should also ensure that they keep up to date with the situation as it changes at.

Click here to read the government’s plan in full.

Emergency support

The TUC is calling on the government to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing emergency support for the millions of UK workers who are currently missing out on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

In a letter to Matt Hancock and Thérèse Coffey, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady warns that inadequate provision of sick pay could stop people taking up public health advice, since many workers will struggle to meet basic living costs if they can’t attend work for a prolonged period.

As a result, some may feel they have no choice but to go to work while ill, or against government advice.

Currently, nearly 2 million of the lowest-paid workers don’t earn enough to qualify for statutory sick pay. According to TUC analysis this includes:

  • 34% of workers on zero-hours contracts;

  • 1 in 10 women in work;

  • More than a fifth (22%) of workers aged 16-24;

  • More than a quarter (26%) of workers aged 65 and over, identified by government as one of the groups most vulnerable to the virus.

Unlimited sick days offered by Amazon

Amazon has told workers that they are entitled to unlimited sick days during March but will only pay sick pay to those employees who test positive for COVID-19.

WHO warns that supplies of PPE is “rapidly depleting”

In his daily briefing in Geneva on March 4 WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that supplies of PPE, such as the gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons used by health workers fighting coronavirus are “rapidly depleting” and warned against “hoarding and misuse”.

“We are concerned that countries’ abilities to respond are being compromised by the severe and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment … caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse,” he said.

Healthcare workers rely on personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their patients from being infected and infecting others. But, says WHO, shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped. “Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, prices have surged. Surgical masks have seen a sixfold increase, N95 respirators have trebled and gowns have doubled.

Supplies can take months to deliver and market manipulation is widespread, with stocks frequently sold to the highest bidder.

WHO has so far shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 47 countries,* but supplies are rapidly depleting.

Based on WHO modelling, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the COVID-19 response each month. For examination gloves, that figure goes up to 76 million, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month.

Recent WHO guidance calls for the rational and appropriate use of PPE in healthcare settings, and the effective management of supply chains.

WHO is working with governments, industry and the Pandemic Supply Chain Network to boost production and secure allocations for critically affected and at-risk countries.

To meet rising global demand, WHO estimates that industry must increase manufacturing by 40%.

Governments should develop incentives for industry to ramp up production, says WHO. This includes easing restrictions on the export and distribution of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies.

Every day, WHO is providing guidance, supporting secure supply chains, and delivering critical equipment to countries in need.

Coronavirus: What’s the risk of flying or taking the train?

Coronavirus: Why employers should be tackling presenteeism

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread rapidly, employers should be discouraging ‘presenteeism’ now more than ever, according to Personnel Today.

As the numbers of people being diagnosed with the virus on the rise every day, businesses have to guard against ‘presenteeism’ – when employees continue to work despite being unwell. As an employer, how can ensure you that undue risks are not being taken?

With sick, or potentially sick, employees still attempting to make it into work, it is now more important than ever to protect employee health and  wellbeing and safeguard business productivity as far as possible.

‘Presenteeism’ is not a new phenomenon, however it has certainly become more noticeable in recent years and at times like this, it is more dangerous. Whether it is employees continuing to come to work when they are sick or staying at work longer than their specified working hours, the root of the problem is often caused by an outdated office culture.

Coronavirus aside, employers are being advised to regularly review workplace policies to check they support employees when they are unwell and discourage presenteeism. A good place to start, is by encouraging open communication between employees, line managers and decision-makers.

With the government announcing that statutory sick pay will be paid to all those who choose to self-isolate, even if they don’t have symptoms, company’s should be reinforcing the message that there will be no punishments for taking days off and emphasising that reducing fellow co-workers’ exposure to risk, is a preferable approach. Ensuring that all employees know the exact procedure to follow should they fall ill should also be a top priority. Line managers must also be alive to the signs of presenteeism and encourage a culture of trust and openness.

Considering alternative ways of working, such as working from home, is a good option, although it may not be applicable to all job roles. For many businesses, working remotely is an effective way of controlling the potential spread of COVID-19 quite easily.

By encouraging an open-door policy and communicating with employees in an empathetic manner, employers have the opportunity to improve both internal morale and the external reputation of the business.

Coronavirus: no evidence that food is a source or transmission route

EFSA is closely monitoring the situation regarding the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that is affecting a large number of countries across the globe. There is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus.

EFSA’s Chief Scientist, Marta Hugas, said: “Experiences from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), show that transmission through food consumption did not occur. At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that coronavirus is any different in this respect.”

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said that while animals in China were the like