Covid-19: Work from home guidance needs improving, government admits

The government used yesterday’s outline of the ‘Tiered’ approach returning to England after December 2nd to admit its guidance on working from home amid covid-19 needs to improve.

In its new 64-page coronavirus Winter Plan, the government says its September order of ‘work from home’ failed to get the uptake that its initial order got in April and May.

Then, over a third of staff worked at home, but since reverting to ‘WfH’ on September 22nd, the numbers doing so -- even during the second national lockdown, were “relatively low.”

'Homeworking a significant help'

“SAGE advice is that typically over one third of [covid-19] contacts are made at work… [so] homeworking can have a significant effect on reducing transmission,” the government said, adding:

“[Therefore, the government ] will strengthen guidance to be very clear that anyone who can work from home should do so.”

After December 2nd, regardless of tier, the currently in-force ‘stay at home’ requirement for everyone ends, but ‘work from home wherever possible’ will apply to all workers.

'Reinforce WfH message'

Signalling that people in tier 1 (‘medium risk’ of infection, the least severe) may not heed the revived ‘WfH’ order, the government says it will “reinforce” it to them in particular.

Business events in tiers 1 and 2 will resume at around the same time, but whether inside or outside, events in stadia will be given spectator limits (such as 50% capacity).  

Meanwhile, in the tier 3 ‘very high’ risk category, work is one of the few reasons why people staying out of their normal household overnight will be allowed.

'Avoid travelling if...'

So business stays is one of the scant exceptions allowing hotels in tier 3 to be open from December 2nd, but people in tiers 1/2 should “avoid” travelling to tier 3, unless for work.

Similarly, individuals who live in tier 3 are advised in the new plan that they must “avoid travelling out of the area, other than where necessary such as work.”

In such very high risk areas, mixing with other households is to be prohibited both indoors and “most outdoor places too,” yet the ‘rule of six’ will return to apply indoors and outdoors in tier 1, and in tier 2, outdoors only.

As to Christmas, the rules are due to be unveiled after tomorrow’s Spending Review 2020 - on Thursday, the same day when towns and cities will learn which tier they are in.

'Subject to your tier's guidance'

But from next Thursday, domestic and international travel will reopen and be allowed again, “subject to the guidance” in each would-be traveller’s tier, the plan says.

Justifying the reapplication of the tiers, once lockdown lifts, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “The government must…reimpose a tiered regional approach in England to keep suppressing the virus through the winter period.”

In light of the festive holiday season fast-approaching, agency body the REC reflected: “A return to localised measures will provide needed flexibility to businesses.”

'Re-apply insolvency measures'

Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors said: “Advanced information on restrictions is what directors need to plan, and the end of the national lockdown is a relief. However, today’s announcement is a decidedly mixed bag for business.”

The IoD’s policy director Roger Barker added: “It’s vital the government reinstates and extends insolvency protections until the spring. Further grant support and tax deferrals should also be considered, as firms could now see reduced income for months.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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