England returns to Plan A regulations on face coverings and COVID-19 Passes: But what does it mean for UK business?

From today, England has returned to Plan A measures following the huge success of the vaccination programme and falling Omicron infections.

Plan B measures were initially introduced on 8 December 2021 to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and buy time for scientists to better understand it and get more jabs in arms. The Get Boosted Now appeal was launched, bringing the date for all adults to be offered a booster to the New Year.

As of today the lifting of Plan B means:

  • mandatory COVID-19 certification will end, but venues may choose to use the NHS COVID Pass voluntarily;
  • face coverings will not be required by law in indoor venues;
  • local directors of public health are still able to recommend face coverings in communal areas only in education settings within their area, but only where the department and public health experts judge the measures to be proportionate – this is a temporary measure;
  • infection prevention control guidance continues to require face coverings be worn in health and care settings, including primary care and pharmacies;
  • it is suggested that people wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where they might come into contact with people they do not normally meet; and
  • it is still a legal requirement for those with COVID-19 to self-isolate for 10 days with the option to end self-isolation after 5 full days following two negative LFD tests.

As of Wednesday 19 January, the government no longer asked people to work from home. People should speak to their employers about arrangements for returning to the office, and should follow the Working Safely guidance.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The tireless efforts of NHS and care staff, and the army of volunteers, as well as the phenomenal response of the British public means over 37 million people have been boosted. I want to thank everyone who has come forward to Get Boosted Now. Our vaccines, testing and antivirals ensure we have some of the strongest defences in Europe and are allowing us to cautiously return to Plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country. As we learn to live with Covid we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away so if you haven’t already – please come forward for your first, second or booster jab.”

Can business owners breathe a sigh of relief?

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, one of the UK’s largest providers of small business insurance, comments on the lifting of Plan B restrictions.

Small business owners across the UK will be breathing a sigh of relief as Plan B measures – including mandatory face coverings and Covid Passes – are lifted, and the country returns to Plan A. Having contended with trading restrictions for close to two years, many will be hoping this represents the beginning of the end of restrictive measures, which have severely impacted SMEs.

Of course, public health is paramount. But it can’t be overstated how important it is for all of us that small businesses bounce back. Making up 99% of all UK businesses and contributing trillions of pounds a year in turnover, they’re the lifeblood of our economy and communities.

Small businesses are still in recovery mode, and almost half are still suffering financially from the worst of the pandemic, which cost owners a staggering £126.6bn in total. With many still living in fear of future lockdowns and the impact of further restrictions on trade, the lifting of Plan B restrictions will be a much-needed confidence boost as the country’s self-employed look to get business back on track.

Removing the work from home guidance will undoubtedly benefit independent traders in city and town centres – particularly those in the hospitality industry, who experienced mass cancellations as Omicron spread, and have suffered disproportionately in recent times.

Let’s hope this is another positive step for small businesses in the road to recovery.