Lockdown ended a while ago in the UK, many people are looking to move forward with their lives – whether that’s making up for lost time socialising, recovering their businesses or just regaining a sense of normality.
However, even though many have welcomed the ending of restrictions with open arms, it does not mean coronavirus risk has disappeared. Cases continue to rise (albeit far below the first and second wave), with some of us still having to isolate ourselves after contracting COVID or being in contact with someone who has.
Now that autumn is upon us and schools have re-opened, there are concerns cases will carry on climbing. As colder months hit, it is likely more of us will spend our time indoors, where the risk of transmission is particularly high.
This has unsurprisingly left businesses with fears that restrictions may return, potentially shutting workplaces down or harming productivity. Due to this, companies must remain resilient and adapt to any changing guidance that the government may issue.
This blog explores the likelihood of a winter lockdown and what you should do to make sure your business is ready.
Is there a risk of a winter lockdown?
While there has been plenty of speculation, there has been no confirmation that further lockdowns are planned for the UK. Earlier this month, rumours circulated in the press that an October ‘firebreak’ lockdown was being planned during the UK half-term, but this was the government quickly denied this.
On 14th September, the government unveiled their autumn and winter COVID response strategy, setting out two potential roads for the UK moving forward. Plan A focuses on the continued roll-out of the vaccination programme. Plan B, created if the need to protect an overwhelmed NHS arises, would ask the public to act more cautiously, introduce vaccine passports, and continue wearing face coverings. Neither route explicitly includes the re-introduction of lockdown measures, though plan B may ask people to work from home.
That being said, the government has never ruled out the return of lockdown. This means that if cases were to skyrocket and the NHS risked being overwhelmed, or if plan B measures were not enough to mitigate the threat, more extreme measures like a lockdown might be required.
Similarly, local lockdowns haven’t been taken off the table, suggesting that if cases were to rise in specific regions, those areas might find themselves subject to harsher restrictions, including the closing of some venues or businesses.
On top of the risk of coronavirus, it’s also worth noting that there are also concerns about the rise of other respiratory infections, such as flu. Last year, cases of such viruses were down due to social distancing, wearing of face masks, hand sanitisation and lockdown, which may have lowered our immunity. Without lockdown restriction this winter, it could cause more of us to be hit by illness, which could cause employee sick leave to increase and bring more disruption to businesses.
How to prepare your business
While there’s no telling what the next chapter of the pandemic may hold and whether it will result in any more lockdowns for the UK, it’s always best to be prepared for any eventuality. Fortunately, companies and workforces have learned the importance of resilience in the last two years, meaning much of the hard work has already been done in preparing for future outbreaks.
Below, we’ve listed our top tips for businesses who want to continue to minimise the risk of coronavirus and any potential restrictions that may follow.
Follow government and local guidance
The first step to being ready for any reappearing restrictions is ensuring you are updated with government guidance. This will enable you to prepare for any changes to coronavirus guidance and ensure your workplace complies. Due to the potential of local lockdowns, it’s also worth keeping on top of guidelines from your council or other regional bodies.
You may want to listen to other safety institutions, such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or industry bodies, for further support. They will offer advice on how to adapt your workplace and what you can do to lower the danger in your business, which can provide peace of mind during this uncertain time.
Remember your pandemic protocol
While the pandemic caught many of us off guard when it hit in March 2020, over the following months, many employers learnt how to adjust their workplace with careful measures to protect staff and maintain productivity as much as possible. This means that if another lockdown were to happen, businesses should not need to start from scratch.
Remember your pandemic protocol and keep a record of them. It’s also worth keeping any equipment you invested in to create a COVID secure workplace but may have since been removed, such as PPE, screens or signage.
If restrictions do come back into play, you can then reinstate the appropriate processes to help you stop the spread in your business and adhere to guidelines without too much additional cost to your operations. You will also need to remind your staff of the protocol they need to follow to ensure full compliance and understanding.
Continue with testing
A valuable tool to safeguard against the danger of workplace outbreaks is coronavirus testing. This enables you to identify positive cases early on, even when they’re asymptomatic, so you can prevent it from spreading further and affecting large portions of your workforce.
The government halted free workplace lateral flow testing in the summer, but workplaces can still carry on with paid-for tests, either by buying and setting up their own programme or working with a third-party provider. If you already had this in place earlier in the pandemic, it makes sense to continue with it while COVID-19 cases remain.
Another option is to encourage your staff to get tests at home, especially if they have symptoms or are worried about having been in contact with someone with coronavirus. Tests can be collected from pharmacies, sent by post or done through testing centres.
If a member of staff tests positive, has symptoms or is told to isolate by test and trace, they should stay at home. You must encourage them to follow this guidance and not place any barrier in the way, such as docking pay, ordering staff to come into work or make them feel uncomfortable about their decision to isolate.
This will help to minimise cases and prevent broader disruption if an outbreak were to occur.
Maintain precautions where possible
Everyone should do their part to reduce coronavirus risk, which means being sensible, getting tested, and isolating when required. To further decrease the chances of transmitting infection, it makes sense to stick to precautions as much as possible.
Examples of measures you can continue in your workplace, even without lockdown restrictions being in place, include:
- Wearing masks, especially in communal or crowded areas
- Maintaining distance through spaced out workstations or smaller team sizes
- Implementing one-way systems to reduce contact
- Limiting capacity in smaller areas
- Staggering shift patterns or break times to stop crowding
- Using screens or dividers between workstations
- Regular cleaning of the workplace, especially communal areas and equipment (such as printers, kitchen appliances and desks)
- Ensuring good hand hygiene among staff, with frequent hand washing and hand sanitiser where necessary
Any of these measures you can maintain, depending on the context of your workplace, will help you manage the hazards in your business and make it easier to transition if lockdown restrictions were to be reintroduced.
While we all hope that lockdowns are behind us and that businesses can continue to move forward, it’s impossible to ignore the ongoing risk of coronavirus. We do not know if a lockdown will come into place in the UK this winter or at any other time in the future, but workplaces must be prepared.
By taking the time to ready your business now, you will be in a better position if the worst-case scenario happens. This means you can adjust smoothly to changing guidance and limit the impact on your staff and productivity.
If you need support in addressing the enduring threat of coronavirus in your company, we can assist. We provide tailored solutions for workplaces to help them safeguard their operations and maintain staff safety, such as personalised hand sanitiser solution to reduce the spread of coronavirus and other infections.