Chamber Network: Many businesses face difficult weeks ahead despite self-isolation exemptions

Chamber Network: Many businesses face difficult weeks ahead despite self-isolation exemptions

Workers from 16 key sectors including health, transport and energy will not have to isolate after being pinged by the NHS Covid app. 

Railway signallers and air traffic controllers are among the critical workers who may in exceptional circumstances be able to leave self-isolation to attend work if deemed a close contact under new plans to prevent serious disruption to vital public services.

The guidance lists 16 sectors: energy, civil nuclear, digital infrastructure, food production and supply, waste, water, veterinary medicines, essential chemicals, essential transport, medicines, medical devices, clinical consumable supplies, emergency services, border control, essential defence and local government.

New targeted testing for certain workplaces is being rolled out – with the food industry prioritised.

Until 16th August 2021, in exceptional circumstances – where there would otherwise be a major detrimental impact on essential services – a limited number of critical workers may be informed by their employer, following advice from the relevant government department, that they may be able to leave self-isolation to attend work.

This will only apply to workers who are fully vaccinated (defined as someone who is 14 days post-final dose) and will be solely so that they can attend work. They will otherwise need to continue to self-isolate as directed by NHS Test and Trace. It applies to asymptomatic contacts only and not individuals who have tested positive or who have Covid-19 symptoms. This is not a blanket exemption for all workers in a sector.

Essential workers who attend work in these exceptional circumstances will need to take a PCR test as soon as possible followed by daily LFD tests before attending work each day of their self-isolation period. If they test positive or start to show symptoms they must immediately self-isolate and will no longer be able to attend work.

This is a short-term measure before the exemption for fully vaccinated contacts is introduced on 16 August. It is highly limited and focused to prevent public harm from disruption to critical services. It will only apply to named individuals from a specific set of organisations.

Employers covered by this process will receive a letter from a government department setting out the designated critical workers and telling employers what steps they and those critical workers must follow.

Read more about this on gov.uk here.

Responding to an update on possible self-isolation exemptions for key workers in critical services, Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the BCC, said:

“While the announcement of a process which may exempt select critical workers from self-isolation in England will be a relief to some businesses, it will leave many more still facing critical staff shortages and lost revenue as the number of people being asked to isolate remains high.

“Nearly half of the businesses we surveyed this week have had staff either off sick with Covid or self-isolating in the past two weeks. Businesses want to play their part in stopping the spread of the virus while at the same time striving to revive their business after 16 months of disruption and closures.

“Pilot schemes for ‘test to release’ options have been running for some time now and we would urge the government to immediately bring forward the results of those test schemes and set out how this could be used to enable more double vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation beyond this narrow group of critical workers.

“Government departments are likely to face large volumes of requests for exemptions in the coming days. They must live up to their commitment to responding quickly to requests and provide clear and precise guidance as to what individuals and businesses should do, for example with regards to testing.”

“Nearly half of the businesses we surveyed this week have had staff either off sick with Covid or self-isolating in the past two weeks."

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