Whilst the residents of Leicester recently found themselves in the unfortunate situation of having to remain indoors once again, James Tucker, Business Advisory Partner looks at what happens when a local or regional lockdown is declared, and how businesses can use their experiences of the last few months to prepare for future outbreaks of COVID-19.
How does a localised lockdown differ from a national one?
The rules for local or regional lockdown are exactly the same for the national lockdown, except that they apply to a clearly defined area (eg Leicester) rather than the whole country. The regulations for declaring a localised lockdown depend on whether it is a cluster, such as a school, hospital or factory, which can be closed down by a local director of public health, or if it is an outbreak ie a series of different clusters which can be linked together to form a spike in COVID-19 infections across a local region, as happened in Leicester.
Boris Johnson recently announced that councils in England would be given enhanced powers to be able to act more quickly in order to close restaurants, shops, businesses and outdoor spaces as soon as a local outbreak is identified. There will be a right of appeal for businesses who may be affected by a lockdown, and the lockdowns will be reviewed weekly. More details are expected shortly, including guidance on the introduction of localised ‘stay at home’ orders.
Who decides if a lockdown needs to be reimposed?
The decision to impose a local lockdown and to close individual businesses, schools, hospitals etc is made by the local director of public health and the Health and Safety Executive as they monitor the statistics of people texting positive for COVID-19. The decision to lockdown on a local basis is then enacted by the local county council or unitary authority.
In the case of a regional lockdown, the decision is taken by the government, as a result of information provided by a number of organisations. The government has set up a Joint Biosecurity Centre which comprises of senior civil servants, who work with the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to monitor the spread of COVID-19 across the country. The Joint Biosecurity Centre reports to the chief medical officer for England (or Wales, Scotland or N Ireland) who can then alert the minister in question (Matt Hancock in England) to use existing emergency powers (meaning Parliament doesn’t have to vote on it), and who then authorises the measures to lockdown the city/region in question. The government is expected to announce new measures shortly to introduce localised stay at home orders, restrict the use of transport and stop people from leaving a defined area in order to prevent the spread of Covid.
Can I furlough my staff is a local or regional lockdown is imposed?
No, there are no special arrangements for furloughing on a regional basis, and the Chancellor has stated very clearly that the CJRS (the furlough scheme) will finish at the end of October. The government legislation states that people can be furloughed between now and the end of October, provided that they were previously furloughed for a minimum of 3 weeks before 30 June. The latest ‘flexible furlough’ regulations mean that there is now no minimum period that an employee can be furloughed, so an employer can take staff on and off furlough (with their consent) to suit their circumstances – for example if their business is situated within a local lockdown area. There is more information about the latest furlough rules on our Business Support web pages.
What can I do to prepare for a second outbreak?
Even as businesses prepare for a return to normality in the next few months, it is vital that they have contingency plans in place in the event of a second wave of COVID-19. Both The Academy of Medical Sciences and the British Medical Journal have been adamant in saying that a potential new wave of coronavirus infections this winter could be more serious than the first, and that businesses and communities need to prepare now to be ready if this happens. This might include a revision of your working from home policy, and associated issues such as data protection. The government has not yet given any formal advice on what will happen if a second wave of contagion occurs, but it should be something that all businesses are talking about now, in order to get plans in place well in advance of any local or regional outbreak.