In an unexpected turn of events, the government has announced that it will be bringing in new COVID-19 restrictions for England this week. The news follows significant concerns over the emergence of a new coronavirus variant. The government has confirmed, however, that it will not yet be moving fully to its COVID-19 Plan B – instead it is implementing a Plan B-Lite.

This development may come as a surprise to employers given the government’s insistence in recent weeks that there was insufficient cause to implement Plan B measures. However, it also demonstrates the speed with which the government is prepared to bring in new restrictions to respond to COVID-19 concerns. This means that employers need to continue to keep on the ball to ensure they can react immediately.

The government has indicated that the measures will be reviewed in 3 weeks’ time.

Here is a summary of the key points:

  • At this stage, the government is not recommending that there be a return to home-working for those who are able to do so.
  • From Sunday 28 November 2021

Red list of countries extended

The government has added once again to its red list of countries. Having only removed all countries from the red list on 1 November 2021, the government moved South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbawe back onto the red list with effect from midday on 26 November 2021 (but with hotel-managed quarantine only required from 4 am on 28 November 2021). On 28 November 2021, the following countries were also moved onto the red list: Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

Travellers into the UK from a red list country, regardless of vaccination status, must now:

  • Take a COVID-19 test in the 3 day period before entry into the UK;
  • Book a quarantine hotel package;
  • Book 2 further COVID-19 tests;
  • Complete a passenger locator form.

Travel into the UK from a red list country is also only permitted if the traveller is a UK or Irish national or has residence rights in the UK.

There are exemptions from the requirement to quarantine in a hotel for medical reasons and compassionate reasons. A limited number of jobs also qualify for exemptions.

  • From Monday 29 November 2021

Face coverings in schools

The government is now strongly recommending that staff, students and visitors wear face coverings in communal areas in education settings.

Booster vaccinations potentially to be extended

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations (JCVI) is expected to recommend that booster jabs be extended to younger adults. At present they are only available to certain high risk groups; those who live or work in care homes; frontline health and social care workers; and adults aged 40 or over. The JCVI is also expected to recommend that the 6 month gap between second dose and booster dose is reduced. Confirmation of the proposals is awaited.

  • From 4 am on Tuesday 30 November 2021

Face coverings in shops and public transport

Subject to limited exemptions, face coverings will once again be mandatory in certain settings including shops, banks, post offices, hairdressers, and on public transport. Importantly, however, at this stage they are not compulsory in hospitality venues. Full details of this measure are awaited.

Day 2 PCR tests regardless of vaccination status

The government is reintroducing an obligation for travellers into England to take a day 2 PCR test, regardless of vaccination status (replacing the existing requirement to take a Lateral Flow Test). The PCR test must be purchased from a private provider. Importantly, travellers will also be required to self-isolate pending receipt of a negative result. A positive result will require the traveller to self-isolate for 10 days, as now.

Non-vaccinated travellers will still be required to take pre-departure COVID-19 test in the 3 day period before entry into the UK, plus the day 2 PCR test. In addition, they must also still take a day 8 PCR test (but with the ability to Test to Release after 5 full days in the UK).

Close contacts of Omicron cases must self-isolate

The government requires all close contacts of anyone who has tested positive for the Omicron variant to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. Affected individuals will be contacted by NHS Test & Trace.