29 Jun 2021
In England, given the widespread pessimistic predictions in the days leading up to his announcement, it would have been a surprise if the Prime Minister had said that the final stage of his roadmap to freedom had been successfully met.
In the event, and against the wishes of many of his backbenchers, Mr. Johnson confirmed that the speed of transmission of the Delta variant of coronavirus, and the increasing number of people being admitted to hospital in England, meant that the easing of restrictions on 21 June 2021 could not go ahead.
Four more weeks, pushing “Freedom Day” to 19 July 2021, the Prime Minister explained, would give the NHS time to give double vaccinations to around two-thirds of the adult population including everyone over 50, all the vulnerable, and all the frontline health and care workers.
Recently, the government has reassured businesses that the 19 July deadline won’t be delayed further. However, as COVID cases continue to rise across the UK, it’s important to keep up to date.
In Scotland, on 22 June 2021, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that a three-week delay/pause to the easing of restrictions will be put in place so that COVID-19 vaccines can be rolled out to more people. The First Minister of Wales also confirmed that further easing of restrictions will be delayed for another four weeks. This pause to easing of restrictions will be reviewed again on 15 July 2021.
The most recent changes
England moved into stage three of its roadmap on 17 May 2021. This allowed pubs and restaurants to resume indoor service. Theatres, cinemas, and concert halls were also permitted to reopen too. Some sports stadia can reopen (at up to 10,000 people or a quarter of the stadium's capacity, whichever is the lowest).
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, on 1 June 2021, gave an update on Scotland's roadmap out of lockdown. Glasgow moved down to level 2 of the Covid alert system currently in place in the country, from level 3. Some areas in Scotland’s central belt did not meet the criteria to move from level 2 to level 1, meaning they are ‘paused’ at level 2.
Finally, it was confirmed that Scottish Islands previously in level 1 could move to level 0. This means people can meet indoors in groups of up to 4 households. It also means there’s no set nationwide closing time for the hospitality industry.
In Wales, as of Monday 7 June, the country is in level 1 of its COVID alert system. The current focus is on outdoor restrictions easing.
Many employers are starting to reopen their businesses after lockdown. However, individuals should still only leave home for work if they cannot reasonably work from home. This has remained the same despite the lifting of restrictions. In England, the Government plans to relax this guidance from 19 July 2021. This change is subject to the ongoing government review into social distancing.
In Scotland and Wales, there has been no indication of exactly when this guidance will change. Therefore, you should continue to keep in mind that those who can work from home ‘must’ do so.
This news is disappointing for those employers who have prepared for many weeks to finally reopen their business. Others will have been hoping to relax some of the stringent restrictions still in place on their organisation. This may have included taking staff off furlough or hiring new staff if redundancies have been made.
Now, you will not only face delays in reopening but will also need to think about how to keep your businesses afloat. New furlough agreements are a possible next step. However, it should be noted that the furlough scheme structure will be changing on 1 July 2021. You will begin to contribute to the scheme as government contributions reduce to 70% rather than 80% of furloughed staff wages – at a cap of £2,500. Affected employers will need to now consider whether agreeing to a new period of furlough with staff will be feasible for their business.
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