In its COVID-19 response: autumn and winter plan 2021 document, published on 14 September, the UK central government said it would take whatever action necessary to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, but more harmful economic and social restrictions, such as shop closures or lockdowns, would only be considered as a last resort.The Plan sets out how the government intends to address the challenges that may be posed by COVID-19 through autumn and winter, while ensuring that the NHS is not put under unsustainable pressure. The plan is set out in two parts: Plan A and Plan B.

What is Plan A?

Plan A is the course that the government wants to see the country follow through autumn and winter. However, it recognises that the pandemic may change course rapidly and unexpectedly and the future remains hard to predict. There are a number of variables which include levels of vaccination, how immunity to the virus wanes over time, how quickly and widely social contact returns to pre-pandemic levels, particularly with schools and offices reopening, and whether a new variant emerges.

What is Plan B?

The government recognises that this winter could be particularly difficult for the NHS due to the impacts of COVID-19 adding to the usual increase in emergency demand and seasonal respiratory diseases, such as flu. The government anticipates the realistic possibility that the impact of flu (and other seasonal viruses) may be greater this winter than in a normal winter due to very low levels of flu over winter 2020-21.  As a contingency, the Plan therefore “outlines a Plan B in England which would only be enacted if the data suggests further measures are necessary to protect the NHS”. In assessing the risk to the NHS, the key metrics include hospital occupancy for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, intensive care unit capacity, admissions in vaccinated individuals, and the rate of growth of hospital admissions.

Plan B would be put into operation where data suggests measures are necessary to protect the NHS.

Under plan B, the steps that the government considers may be needed to help control transmission of the virus while seeking to minimise economic and social impacts are:

  • Communicating clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously.
  • Introducing mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification in certain settings, such as at night clubs and large-scale events.
  • Legally mandating face coverings in certain settings (which will be decided at the time).
  • Asking people to work from home if they can, for a limited period.

FSB has said that businesses of all sizes will need help to prepare for likely scenarios, and at the moment the information is too light – for example there is nothing on what triggers are likely to cause the shift from Plan A to Plan B.  One week’s notice is also very tight.  FSB will be consulted on the next evolution of the safer workplace guidance, and will communicate with members.

One area missing from the plan as it stands is free workplace testing, which has now closed, and FSB will be pushing for its reinstatement if any restrictions are required.  The government states that as much prior notice as possible of these steps being implemented will be given to the public and Parliament, with updated guidance to businesses and the public being issued.

The government recognises that working from home causes more disruption and has greater immediate costs to the economy and some businesses than the other Plan B interventions, so a final decision would be made based on the data at the time.

However, it recognises that high levels of homeworking have played an important role over the past 18 months in preventing sustained epidemic growth in recent months. By re-introducing this measure, the government would be seeking to reduce the transmission risk inside and outside of the workplace, including by reducing the number of people taking public transport and the number of face-to-face meetings and social activities, and thereby reducing community and household transmission.

Employers and employees will of course be well-versed in homeworking as an emergency response to the pandemic, so procedures will already have been in place which employers can reinstate should this become necessary in England under the Government’s ‘plan B’. FSB members have access to the FSB Legal Hub, which includes a homeworking policy where this is introduced as a temporary measure due to Covid-19 and health and safety guidance in relation to homeworking.

And if a greater response is needed?

The Plan concludes that beyond Plan B “more harmful economic and social restrictions would only be considered as a last resort”.  The government anticipates that due to the vaccination programme, it should be possible to handle a further resurgence of COVID-19 cases with less damaging measures than the lockdowns and economic and social restrictions deployed in the past.

It is worth noting, however, that beyond communication and guidance there is no mention in the Plan of what government financial support will be available for businesses should restrictions need to be reintroduced or as to whether, as part of plan B or beyond, a furlough scheme and other government coronavirus schemes would be reintroduced in England should emergency measures be put back into place.  FSB is arguing that the flipside for any restrictions being brought in should be business support, which led to the flagship support schemes in 2020 and 2021 that helped millions of small businesses (with the exception of income support for limited company directors).

Economy boosting step backed by move to clamp down on poor performers.

People will be able to use private sector tests when returning, or visiting, from green or amber list countries under a change to international travel restrictions.

The step will allow people to choose from a list of approved providers when booking the tests they will need to take after arriving in Scotland.

People previously had to book NHS home PCR tests via the UK Government’s booking portal.

The opportunity to ease the restriction – which will come into effect in early September – has been made possible by enhanced monitoring of the performance and reliability of private testing providers to ensure public health safeguards are maintained. There is also the additional safeguard of removing any provider that does not meet stringent performance measures.

Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf said:

“The step provides more choice and flexibility for travellers and will provide a boost for the tourism and aviation sector.

“We have had regular engagement with the UK Government to understand the measures being taken to ensure test results will be communicated rapidly and reliably to both individuals and to contact tracing services.

“We have also been reassured that any positive results will be genomically sequenced to quickly identify any variants of concern.

“The decision carefully weighs the benefit to the travel sector against our responsibility to the wider public health, and is a further endorsement of the resounding success of our domestic vaccination roll out.”

Background

The current list of eligible test providers can be found on the gov.uk website.

Since 17 May, international travellers arriving in Scotland have been required to comply with certain requirements or restrictions, depending on which country they have arrived from. This can include self-isolation and undertaking tests at specified points after their arrival.

Self-isolation is no longer required for international travellers arriving from amber list countries, provided they are fully vaccinated through a UK, EU or USA vaccination programme and take a PCR test on the second day after arrival.

The Food Standards Scotland (FSS) COVID-19 webpage has now been updated following the move into beyond COVID-19 Level 0 allowing all venues and businesses to open with most legal restrictions removed. However, a baseline set of mitigation measures is to be retained across all sectors, and these are detailed in Scottish Government’s general safer workplaces guidance which aims to support businesses in controlling the risks of COVID-19 beyond Level 0.

To assist food businesses in translating the measures in the Scottish Government safer workplaces guidance, FSS has updated its risk assessment tool which will support FBOs in identifying and documenting the actions they need to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, whilst maintaining an effective Food Safety Management System (FSMS). The tool provides a way of allowing all FBOs to document the measures they have taken, and demonstrate that these are being maintained on an on-going basis to ensure their staff and customers are protected from the risks of COVID-19.

FSS has also updated its guidance for FBOs on the investigation of COVID-19 outbreaks. This has been developed in collaboration with Public Health Scotland (PHS) which aims to help food businesses understand how decisions will be taken when an outbreak of COVID-19 is identified in their workforce. This guidance is split into two main sections which describes what FBOs are expected to know in relation to controlling COVID-19 in the workplace, and how to prepare for an IMT.

This guidance package is essential for all food businesses operating throughout the current stage of the pandemic. Using the resources supplied by FSS and Scottish Government will also support FBOs in engaging with their employees on the management of COVID-19 risks to ensure a safe working environment, in accordance with the joint statement on ‘fair work expectations during the transition out of lockdown’ signed by The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work & Culture, CoSLA, the Institute of Directors and Scottish Council for Development & Industry, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the STUC.

Hawkes Health are offering the flu vaccinations to all our clients. With employer/employee vaccination programmes running from September through January, we can provide protection for your entire workforce.

The flu vaccine provides robust protection against the flu virus. It is safe, only takes a few minutes and will last around a year. Influenza can make people very unwell.

Offering your employees the flu vaccine, demonstrates care and commitment to your staff, both in the work environment and at home. Vaccination can and does reduce winter absenteeism.

We are seeking a registered nurse to work in our Dundee occupational health centre. Training provided with career development possibilities. Hours flexible. We pay very competitive rates. Driver preferred.

We are also seeking an individual with a health care background to train as an occupational Health Technician.

Please send your CV to enquiries@hawkeshealth.com

We are delighted to become Fife Chamber of Commerce’s latest Premier Partner. Hawkes Health is a leading provider of occupational health services, both in the UK and internationally.

https://www.fifechamber.co.uk/news/2021/august/hawkes-health-makes-its-mark-fife-and-becomes-latest-fife-chamber-commerce-premier

We, as a family firm, are delighted to announce the promotion of Ellie Hawkes our current communication and marketing specialist to board Director. Her contribution over the last two years steering us through these challenging times has been immeasurable.

The HSE makes clear that employers have a duty to report certain COVID-19-related dangerous occurrences, illnesses and deaths under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

www.hse.gov.uk

Findings from the REACT-2 studies show over a third of people who had coronavirus reported symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks.

The study is based on self-reported data from 508,707 adults aged 18 and above who took part in REACT-2 rounds three to five carried out between September 2020 and February 2021.

Around a fifth of those surveyed reported having had a COVID-19 symptom previously, with over a third reporting persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. Around a tenth of those with symptoms said they lasted at least 12 weeks and were severe.

The findings suggest prevalence of persistent symptoms, or long COVID, increases with age, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood in each decade of life. It shows long COVID is higher among women, people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived areas, or had been admitted to hospital. Persistent COVID-19 symptoms were lower in people of Asian ethnicity.

Former Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said: “Long COVID can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected. Studies like this help us to rapidly build our understanding of the impact of the condition and we are using these findings and other new research to develop support and treatments.

“We are learning more about long COVID all the time and have made £50 million of research funding available to support innovative projects, with clinics established across the country to help improve the treatment available.”

COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease and to better understand its long-term effects the government is providing scientists with £50 million of research funding through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to help ensure the best treatments are available.

To help people suffering the debilitating long-term effects of this virus, the NHS has opened over 80 long COVID assessment services across England and last week the NHS published a £100 million plan to expand support, including £30 million to help GPs improve diagnosis and care for patients with long COVID.

Professor Paul Elliott, Director of the REACT programme at Imperial, said: “Our findings do paint a concerning picture of the longer-term health consequences of COVID-19, which need to be accounted for in policy and planning. Long COVID is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others suggest may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone.”

People with persistent symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two broad groups. In the first the most common symptom was tiredness and muscle aches. In the second, the most common symptoms were shortness of breath affecting normal activities, tightness in chest, and chest pain, with more people reporting that they had severe symptoms.

The study was based on self-reported data and because many of the symptoms are common and not specific to COVID-19 it may overestimate the prevalence of persistent symptoms following COVID-19.

Earlier this year, Heather Beach from the Healthy Work Company spoke to Dr Judith Grant, Director of Health & Wellbeing at Mace, about her experiences with long COVID. Judith has been diarising her struggles with long-COVID on LinkedIn.

COVID-19 infection and long COVID guide for workers

European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has published a guide for recovering workers and is designed to help those in a job, those looking for work and starting a new job.

It covers keeping in touch with an employer, managing a phased return and the support offered by occupational health services.

For many people, returning to work is an important part of the recovery process, even if means reduced hours and changes to work patterns and duties as you get back on your feet.

‘Long COVID’ is a term that is used if after four weeks your symptoms continue and prevent you from doing normal activities. Research studies estimate that one in five people has symptoms after five weeks, and 1 in 10 has symptoms for 12 weeks or longer after acute COVID-19.

The guidance is set out under the following headings:

  • During your illness.
  • Returning to work.
  • Examples of adjustments to work duties.
  • How occupational health services can help.
  • Employers’ overall responsibilities.

COVID-19 infection and long COVID guide for managers

Guidance has also been published, which points out the importance of managers in helping employees to return to work after acute COVID-19 or long COVID. The guide sets out the steps that managers should take to give their workers the best chance of getting back to work and staying in work.

It covers making contact with the employee, arranging a phased return and discussing adjustments to the worker’s duties and schedules to enable them to cope. The guide also outlines the support that is available for managers from occupational health services and human resources.

Workers will require different levels of support depending on their role and any ongoing symptoms, so listening to their needs and checking in regularly are key it says.

Post-COVID experience

While there is still lots to learn about the impact of COVID-19, it is known that:

  • One in five people has symptoms after four weeks, and 1 in 10 has symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. For some, symptoms may last many months.
  • Symptoms can be unpredictable and fluctuate over time.
  • Common symptoms include extreme fatigue, breathlessness, muscle and joint pain, chest pain and mental health problems.
  • Most workers with ongoing symptoms will need accommodations to be made in the workplace, but some may not.
  • The unpredictable and fluctuating nature of long COVID means that some workers may need to return to work gradually, over a long period of time — building up their work capacity.

Managers are often the first point of contact. The guide stresses that a manager must support the returning worker, listen to their concerns and act where possible.

Support

The guidance sets out the following key steps when supporting a returning worker:

  • Step 1: stay in touch while the worker is absent from work.
  • Step 2: prepare for the worker’s return.
  • Step 3: have a return-to-work conversation.
  • Step 4: provide support during the early days after return to work.
  • Step 5: provide ongoing support and review regularly.

Source: SHP (Safety & Health Practitioner) 06/21

https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=SHP+(Safety+%26+Health+Practitioner)&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Useful article in explaining the different types of COVID testing being undertaken:

https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-what-are-the-different-types-of-covid-19-tests-12068081

Hawkes Associates (UK) Limited T/A Hawkes Health registered company number: SC445091. Achilles First Point (FPAL) Supplier Number: 10055672.