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What an Omicron Plan B means for businesses

Yesterday the British government announced that England will be moving to Plan B due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The most immediate change, from 10 December, is that face coverings will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, except when eating, drinking, or exercising. Face masks will remain optional for hospitality.

From Monday 13 December, anyone who can work from home will be encouraged to do so.

To give businesses one week’s notice, the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and places where crowds gather from Wednesday 15 December, though this still needs to attain parliamentary approval.

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Responding to the measures, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese said encouraging remote work is the sensible thing to do given the rise in Omicron cases.

He said: "Where people can only do their jobs from a place of work, flexibility on how and when they work can help to minimise exposure to other people.”

Flexibility will also be key to help staff access booster jabs, said Cheese, and as part of employers’ duty of care, the CIPD is encouraging organisations to avoid any in-person, end of year parties while recognising that employees are still free to meet in a personal capacity.

Despite the change, Cheese said he was confident that employers could adapt quickly to the new guidance.

He added: “Many businesses and their people have learned how to work remotely at scale and at speed during the pandemic so will be well placed to respond to this change in guidance.”

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), however expressed concern on the behalf of some businesses.

“Businesses will be concerned by the introduction of Plan B after all the work that has been done over the past few months to get the economy performing.

“This is especially true in hospitality where restrictions could have a devastating effect, especially at this time of year.”

Though admitting it is the right thing to do where safety is concerned, Carberry urged government to expedite a more comprehensive plan of action for businesses to ace.

He said: “What we need now is a full plan of action as soon as possible – including what restrictions will be in place, for how long, and a package of support for those businesses and workers that will be badly affected.”


Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

In Scotland and Wales, face masks have remained mandatory in most public places, except for hospitality.

Where Scotland has maintained the guidance to work from home where possible, Wales at present is still advising employers to undertake coronavirus risk assessments and take their own reasonable measure to minimise the spread of the virus.

Northern Ireland has maintained work from home guidance and mandatory face coverings in all public places, including hospitality when not seated.

Track and trace is also still active in the nations. 

When will the new measures be lifted?

Parliament will debate the new measures next week, and a vote is expected to take place on Tuesday 14 December.

Though under constant review and susceptible to further changes, current regulations are set to expire six weeks after they are implemented.

A formal review will take place after three weeks.