On 5 July, the Prime Minister confirmed that the final decision on whether England moves to Step 4 of the roadmap on 19 July will be taken on 12 July.

The government has also published guidance, Covid-19 Response: Summer 2021 which explains that when England moves to Step 4, it will continue to manage the risk of serious illness from the spread of Covid by:

  1. Reinforcing the country’s vaccine wall of defence through booster jabs and driving take up
  2. Enabling the public to make informed decisions through guidance, rather than laws
  3. Retaining proportionate test, trace and isolate plans in line with international comparators
  4. Managing risks at the border and support a global response to reduce the risk of variants emerging globally and entering the UK
  5. Retaining contingency measures to respond to unexpected events, while accepting that further cases, hospitalisations and deaths will occur as the country learns to live with COVID-19

The document expands on each of these points. Below we have summarised the general issues that affect us all, the key issues that affect businesses and the government’s ongoing advisory guidance from 19 July contingent on the government’s final decision on 12 July.

General Impacts of Step 4

  • All remaining limits on social contact will be removed, all settings open and Covid-19 status certification will not be required in law as a condition of entry
  • The legal requirements to wear a face covering will be lifted in all settings, but guidance will advise that wearing a face covering will reduce your risk and the risk to others, where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed and crowded spaces
  • Social distancing rules will be lifted except in limited circumstances such as ports and at border controls and for people who are self-isolating particularly where they have had a positive test. Health and care settings will continue to maintain appropriate infection prevention and control processes. Directors of Public Health, in consultation with setting operators and relevant departments, will be able to advise that social distancing is put in place if necessary to control outbreaks in enclosed and vulnerable communities such as prisons
  • The Department for Education will shortly set out more detail and publish new guidance for arrangements in education settings from step 4, covering both the summer period and the following term
  • In care homes, the Government will lift restrictions that limit each resident to five named visitors

Business Impacts of Step 4

  • It is no longer necessary for Government to instruct people to work from home. Employers can start to plan a return to workplaces
  • Regulations that place COVID-secure requirements on businesses, including table service, and distancing between tables, will be lifted. ‘Working Safely’ guidance will be updated to provide examples of sensible precautions that employers can take to reduce risk in their workplaces. Employers should take account of this guidance in preparing the risk assessments they are already required to make under pre-pandemic health and safety rules
  • Businesses must not require a self-isolating worker to come to work, and should make sure that workers and customers who feel unwell do not attend the setting
  • Businesses will be encouraged to ask staff and customers to clean their hands regularly and clean surfaces that people touch regularly. The Government will provide guidance on how businesses can reduce unnecessary contact in the workplace, where it is practical. Operators will still be encouraged to use outside space where practical, and to consider the supply of fresh air to indoor spaces. Carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors could be used to help identify where a space is poorly ventilated with businesses encouraged to take steps to improve ventilation if CO2 readings are consistently high
  • Businesses will be encouraged to display QR codes for customers to check in using the NHS COVID-19 app, to support NHS Test and Trace, although it will no longer be a legal requirement

Advisory government guidance

The government advises that we can manage the risks to ourselves and others from the virus by adopting the following beneficial behaviours:

  • Meeting in well-ventilated areas where possible, such as outdoors or indoors with windows open
  • Wearing a face covering where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed and crowded spaces
  • Washing your hands with soap and water or using hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day
  • Covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze
  • Staying at home if unwell, to reduce the risk of passing on other illnesses onto friends, family, colleagues, and others in your community
  • Considering individual risks, such as clinical vulnerabilities and vaccination status
  • It will remain a legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive or are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace

As the restrictions alter, so much of the government support for businesses available during the pandemic is coming to an end over the coming months. Contributions are required to the furlough (CJRS) scheme from July, repayments for deferred tax and loans fall due and there are changes to business and VAT rates. It is important to be aware of the timelines involved to manage cashflow. If you need our help in navigating the changes for your business, or with cashflow management, please do get in touch.