As 2021 draws to a close, workplaces across the UK are preparing to host Christmas parties and celebrations. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus situation is once again changing, as the holidays approach. The recent discovery of the Omicron variant combined with rising case numbers in the UK has resulted in updates to the COVID-19 rules for Christmas.
Making sure that the holiday is safe for everyone requires knowledge of the new rules, an understanding of the situation, and what measures you can do to protect yourself and others. Let’s take a look at important information that everyone should keep in mind, as they enjoy this festive season.
Christmas Rules to Stay Safe from Infection
After the confirmation of eleven cases of the Omicron variant in the UK, PM Johnson announced new Christmas Day pandemic guidelines. Rather than go into a full lockdown, PM Johnson has said he will initiate what is known as the Plan B rules.
These new restrictions come into force legally across the UK as of 30/11/2021. All new regulations are to be reviewed by the government three weeks after their implementation.
Health is a regional issue in the UK, so England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland each have their own separate regulations:
England – From 30th November, workers and customers will be required to wear face masks in shops and on public transport. The government has stressed the importance of vaccinations as the number one defence against the virus. All adults have been offered two doses of the virus, and many of these a booster.
At this stage, there is no requirement for hospitality workers to wear face coverings. Anyone going to a crowded place is advised to test for Covid-19 first.
Any person who tests positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate until a negative test result is received. Any person has come into contact with someone who has a suspected case of Omicron must self-isolate for ten days. Those entering the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and if positive, must self-isolate until a negative result is received.
Wales – Wales is maintaining an alert level of zero. It is, however, asking people to wear masks wherever possible and work from home if they can. Adequate ventilation measures, social distancing, and hygiene measures are also recommended. Theatres, cinemas, and concert halls will require people to show vaccine passports before they can be granted admission.
Scotland – Scotland is following the new UK COVID-19 rules for Christmas. Nightclubs, music venues, sporting events and festivals will require people to show vaccine passports before they are granted admission. The Scottish health secretary Hamza Yousef has said Scotland must “redouble (its) efforts” to combat the threat of the new variant.
Northern Ireland – While not enforcing face covering regulations, Northern Ireland is requiring all people with COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate for ten days. A vaccinated person who has come into contact with an infected person should get a PCR test, while an unvaccinated person must self-isolate for ten days.
More information can be found at the UK government’s COVID-19 page.
But Will There Be Another Holiday Lockdown In the UK?
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been adamant that there will be no significant increase in Christmas COVID-19 restrictions. Although the new strain of the virus is believed to be more transmissible than previous variants, Johnson has – to date – not announced a UK-wide lockdown over the Christmas period.
Of course, this situation will continue to develop, as researchers gain a clearer understanding of the new strain of virus.
Recent Coronavirus Developments
A surge of coronavirus cases has recently been reported throughout Europe and the UK. Austria has gone into full lockdown, while Germany and the Netherlands have reintroduced restrictions.
The upturn in the number of positive cases is being ascribed to both to waning immunity protection given by vaccines and the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant. In both the UK and Europe, the number of fully vaccinated people is still not as high as officials would have hoped, although the UK has made significant progress since last year.
The discovery of the Omicron variant in South Africa and its subsequent spread to parts of the UK, Europe, and the US is the most serious recent development in the ongoing pandemic.
Is the Omicron Variant Dangerous?
It is not yet known how dangerous the new variant is, but preliminary research from the WHO has shown that it has a large number of mutations and poses an ‘increased risk of reinfection’ compared to other variants.
However, it should be noted that at the time of writing, it is not known whether Omicron results in more severe symptoms as compared to other variants. The increased rate of hospitalisation in South Africa is not clearly caused by the appearance of Omicron. It is also unclear whether the Omicron COVID-19 variant is more resistant to existing vaccines.
Because Omicron was detected so early, it is not yet known whether it will prove to be as dangerous or as easily transmissible as the Delta variant. Until further research is completed, many countries have chosen to err on the side of caution.
Should You Get a Booster Shot?
The effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines start to wane after time. People who have had the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine may experience waning immunity six months after their second dose. People who have had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can experience waning immunity just two months after receiving the single dose.
The deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Prof Anthony Harnden, has come out in favour of reducing time between vaccine doses and making booster shots available to people under the age of 40.
The National Health Service (NHS) has also recommended that all eligible persons should get a booster shot as it will improve protection against the coronavirus
The UK government has now taken this advice and all adults over the age of eighteen are eligible for a booster shot at a minimum of three months after their second dose. Twelve to seventeen-year-olds are eligible to receive a second dose twelve weeks after the first, and severely-immunocompromised can receive a fourth dose three months after their third dose.
How to Stay Safe at Work this Christmas
Staying safe at work during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic requires diligence on behalf of employers, employees, and members of the public. The best way to ensure the safety of yourself, your co-workers, and your customers is to follow the below guidelines:
- Make sure you and your co-workers are vaccinated
- If you are eligible, get a booster shot as soon as you can
- Wear a suitable mask that covers your nose and mouth
- Conduct meeting via phone or online wherever possible
- Maintain social distancing
- Always keep your workplace well-ventilated
- Regularly wash your hands and use hand sanitizer
- Regularly clean and disinfect work areas and equipment
- Stay up to date with developments and follow all COVID-19 control rules for the Christmas period in the workplace
More information on staying safe at work can be found on the UK government’s page ‘Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19)’. The Human Focus website also offers online health and safety training regarding COVID-19 infection control in the workplace.