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New COVID-19 restrictions in place for business

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United Kingdom

On Tuesday, the Government announced a series of new restrictions which may spell the end for the brief taste of normality enjoyed in recent weeks.

The measures, which are expected to be in place for six months, are intended to prevent the need for tighter restrictions in the future, including a full national lockdown as we experienced in the spring.

Working from home

There has been a reversal of the recent message that we should start getting 'back to work'. The Government has now advised that office workers should work from home where possible, but that those who cannot perform their roles from home should continue to travel in as necessary.

Businesses must continue to pay particular attention to maintaining COVID-Secure work environments. This will include strictly enforcing policies on hygiene, face coverings and appropriate social distancing of at least one metre. Risk assessments may need to be revisited and the COVID-Secure guidelines re-reviewed once they have been amended in light of the Government's announcement.

Hospitality

From today, hospitality venues, including cafes, pubs and restaurants, must be closed between 10pm and 5am and must provide table service only for food and drink.  Face coverings will be required for all employees and for customers when away from their tables.

Businesses will also be required to display the official NHS QR code posters to allow customers to 'check-in' for track and trace purposes.

It is likely that the new Government measures will have a disproportionate impact on the hospitality industry, which is already on its knees from previous mandatory closures and restrictions. Although it is a hard pill to swallow, hospitality providers need to ensure that they comply with the Covid-specific measures for them including a 10pm curfew and exclusive table service. Many will argue that the arbitrary curfew will not curtail transmission rates and will in fact lead to widespread business disruption at their busiest times. However, this targeted focus on hospitality is presumably in relation to concerns that hospitality venues are becoming the catalyst for further transmission.

Enforcement

Businesses and organisations may face fines of up to £10,000 for repeated breaches of COVID-Secure requirements. This includes failing to take necessary contact details, failing to enforce social distancing and, in hospitality, accepting reservations for more than six people.

Fines for individuals who fail to wear face coverings or otherwise comply with relevant rules have been doubled from £100 to £200 for the first offence.

The Government has committed additional funding to assist the police in enforcing the new rules and has indicated military support will be available as required.

What's next?

These new measures will not come as a surprise to those tracking the spread of the virus. The recent surge in infections has demonstrated, as feared, that a return to normality is not on the cards for some time.

Businesses are encouraged to act quickly and decisively. In reality, all businesses should be following the Covid-Secure guidelines relevant to their particular business sector. Although frustrating for many employers and workers alike, working from home should now be the new default for many and this should be reflected in company policies. Where it is unavoidable for employees to be working 'on site', businesses should pay even closer attention to their policies, procedures and systems in relation to social distancing and hygiene to protect the health and safety of their workers and others affected by their business in light of the resurgence of the virus. Risk assessments may need to be revisited and the Covid-Secure guidelines re-reviewed once they have been amended in light of the Government's announcement.

If you have any health and safety-related questions or concerns about your business in light of the coronavirus outbreak, Fieldfisher's health and safety team will be happy to discuss your specific circumstances with you.

This article was co-authored by Fieldfisher Trainee Solicitor Sarah Kingsley Fried.

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