Business leaders react to PM’s ‘Step 4’ COVID restrictions announcement

Boris Johnson

COVID-19 restrictions are set to end in England from Monday 19 July, as the final ‘Step’ of the roadmap was confirmed yesterday evening.

The decision to open up has caused a divide in the business and wider community, and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson stressed that a lot of decisions on the best practices going forward will be down to ‘people’s personal judgement’ and that we will all need to ‘live with the virus’.

Subject to a final review of the data next week, legal restrictions will end – as scheduled – on Monday 19 July.

Limits on social contact will end, meaning there will be no restrictions on indoor or outdoor gatherings. Weddings, funerals and other life events able to take place without limits or restrictions.

All venues currently closed will be allowed to reopen, including nightclubs, and there will be no legal requirement for table service in hospitality settings.

Face coverings will no longer be legally required in shops, schools, hospitality, or on public transport although guidance will be in place to suggest where people might choose to wear one, such as where you come into contact with people you don’t usually meet in enclosed and crowded places.

The government reviews into social distancing and Covid-status certification have also now concluded. The one metre-plus rule will be lifted other than in specific places such as at the border to help manage the risks of new variants coming into the country.

There will be no legal requirement on the use of Covid-status certification as a condition of entry for visitors to any domestic setting.

As a result of the delay to the final step of the roadmap, the vaccination programme has saved thousands more lives by vaccinating millions more people.

Over 79 million vaccine doses have now been administered in the UK, every adult has now been offered at least one dose, and 64% of adults have received two doses.

The government has also today confirmed the rollout will accelerate further, by reducing the vaccine dose interval for under-40s from 12 weeks to 8. This will mean every adult has the chance to have two doses by mid-September.

The Prime Minister made clear that learning to live with the virus meant cases would continue to rise significantly, even if the success of the vaccination programme meant hospitalisations and deaths will rise at a lower level than during previous peaks.

He set out how cases could rise to 50,000 per day by 19 July, with daily hospital admissions and deaths also rising although more slowly.

The guidance to work from home where possible will also end, to allow employers to start planning a safe return to workplaces.

While NHS Test and Trace will continue to play an important role in managing the virus, the PM also signalled the government’s intention to move to a new regime whereby fully vaccinated people would no longer need to self-isolate if identified as a contact. Further details will be set out in due course.

The Education Secretary will also update on new measures for schools and colleges later this week, which will minimise further disruption to education but maintain protection for children.

Proof of vaccination or a negative test will still be required for international travel, with the Prime Minister confirming that the Transport Secretary will provide a further update later this week on removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals from an amber country to isolate.

‘STEP 4 WILL SUCCEED IF WE WORK TOGETHER TO BOOST CONFIDENCE’

Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, has welcomed the reopening of the economy following the Prime Minister’s announcement: “Businesses welcome the reopening, which will provide huge relief for many firms who have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Critical now will be to build both customer and employee confidence in living with the virus. This will require businesses to continue putting safety at the heart of their approach as they have since the start of the Covid crisis and Government providing a vital role in supporting employers through guidance and advice.

“Firms will be placing a premium on close dialogue with their employees in boosting confidence and will be demonstrating to customers how they are reopening safely and with their interests at the forefront. Meanwhile Government and the Health & Safety Executive should continue to play a critical role in helping to inform good decision making and risk assessments.

“In the coming days we need Government to put in place further measures to create this much-needed confidence. Knowing whether workplace testing will continue beyond July, gaining clarity on mask wearing for public transport and understanding how a role test & release scheme can support both domestic industry and our international travel sector can provide a further boost for firms as we all move from crisis to recovery.”

Now is the time to be bold and build on the new ways of working

Ian Girling, chief executive of the Dorset Chamber, said: “Many businesses will face a race against time to be ready for ‘Freedom Day’. With mixed messages from the government, health experts and others in authority, businesses could be forgiven for being confused about what action to take in preparation for July 19.

“While confirmation of the easing of restrictions will be music to the ears of many businesses in Dorset, others will need to think about risk assessments, staff consultation and the introduction of new policies in the workplace.

“Many firms will be faced with a period of re-adjustment as employees return after many months away while there may be a risk of a divide between staff over whether such measures as social distancing should remain in place in their workplace.

“With the easing of restrictions and phasing out of support, it would be easy for the government to wash its hands of business but ongoing assistance, forward guidance and clarity will be crucial in the months ahead. The easing of restrictions does being hope for businesses in Dorset but we must not be tempted to create a ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ of pre-pandemic life. Now is the time to be bold and build on the new ways of working which businesses have so successfully seized over the past year, whether that means greater flexible working, more virtual meetings or less travel.

“There’s a once in a generation opportunity to reshape our businesses for the better – for employees and the firm itself as well as the economy – and it would be a crime to waste it.”

Small firms call for clarity as England set to unlock

Looking ahead to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s press conference this afternoon, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “Today’s press conference will raise the hopes of millions of small businesses after 16 months of on-again, off-again restrictions and forced closures.

“A reopening on 19 July across England will be especially important to those in the nightlife, events and hospitality sectors who have been shut for five straight quarters, those who cannot turn a profit with restrictions in place, and suppliers to these firms. Millions have withstood the worst year of their working lives and finally face the prospect of relief.

“The Government should recognise the huge amount of work it has to do from here to build confidence and provide the clear, comprehensive communication that businesses, their staff and customers will need to pave the way for a strong recovery.

“Previous false dawns have proved disruptive and disappointing. Any celebrations will be on hold until we know what new operating rules will look like – we urgently need clarity.

“Small firms have a host of questions they need answering in the next 14 days, among them: is this intervention confirmation enough to buy stock and get staff in place for the 19th? What do I say to staff worried about the safety of public transport? Where do I stand if I lift all restrictions at my business and someone contracts covid on site? Do I tell staff the office is safe to reopen? How will the rules around schooling and childcare change? What police protection will there be for me if I ask customers to follow safety procedures and they refuse? What infrastructure, like testing, will be kept in place for businesses?

“After enforcing restrictions for so long, the Government must not simply withdraw and allow a free-for-all. The sooner we have crystal clear, comprehensive guidance from BEIS, the better.

“Equally, the Government has a responsibility to make sure people feel safe enough to act on this opportunity, if and when it comes, and accept the reality that, after a year of being told from the top to stay at home, people will need reassurance that it is safe to go out. The more policymakers can be transparent around the data on which decisions are based, the more they can help to reassure.

“The economic cost of lockdowns has been huge, and has fallen disproportionately on small businesses. Firms will be financing their re-openings whilst emergency loan repayments kick in, business rates bills for the hardest-hit return, VAT deferrals are due and furlough support is withdrawn. We are still waiting for the Government to deliver promised rates support to suppliers, alongside £1bn of restart and additional restriction grants that should have reached firms months ago via councils.

“A strong recovery is finally within our reach. Focus, support and clear guidance from the Government are needed to make it a reality.”

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