Prime Minister, Boris Johnson today set before the House of Commons six steps designed to action to suppress the disease in England.  This follows similar steps already announced in Northern Ireland.

Step One is that office workers, who can work from home should do so.  He was, however explicit and avoided mistakes of the initial lockdown with the statement that  “key public services – and in all professions where homeworking is not possible, such as construction or retail – people should continue to attend their workplaces

The second step is that from Thursday all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table-service only and that all hospitality venues must close at 10pm.  The same will apply to takeaways – though deliveries can continue thereafter.

The third step is to extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.

The fourth step is confirming that, in retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors, Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations.  Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach these rules.

The fifth step is to tighten up the rule of six.  From Monday, a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions.  Though, up to 30 can still attend a funeral as now.  The rule will extend to all adult indoor team sports.

Finally, plans to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events will not begin from 1 October.

These rules will be enforced by tighter penalties extending fines of up to £10,000 for those who fail to self-isolate to businesses breaking Covid rules.  This is significant for construction businesses and extends the penalties that HSE can impose if not adhering to strict social distancing guidelines.  The FIS COVID H&S Toolkit is available here.

The penalty for failing to wear a mask or breaking the rule of six will now double to £200 for a first offence.

Commenting on the announcement, FIS CEO Iain McIlwee stated:

“I think we had all steeled ourselves for this, but nonetheless it is a blow to hear that after months of fighting the virus we have taken a step back.  One positive is that the clarity in the speech from the Prime Minister with respect to business and construction is appreciated – it means we avoid the worst of the confusion that we experienced as a sector back in March. 

It is the wider implications that concern me more, this is clearly a blow to the hospitality sector and is likely to impact investment here, but also delay decisions around reconfiguring and enhancing workspaces. 

I hope that the Prime Minister heeded the warnings from his fellow members of the House about needing to do more to support businesses through this challenging time so that we are there to support the recovery.  I believe now he has to look carefully at the allowances available that will encourage people to invest in their buildings and enhance their working environments in readiness for a return.  A silver lining is that, without doubt the best time to get work done is when the building will be vacant.”

A full transcript of the speech is available here.  The Prime Minister will address the nation at 8pm tonight.

An Update on Scotland

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament today the First Minister introduced a number of additional restrictions the Scottish Government believes are now necessary in order to reduce COVID rates as we enter winter.

 These restrictions include:

 ·         A strict nationwide curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants – from Friday 25th September, pubs, bars and restaurants will be required to close at 10pm.

·         From tomorrow (23 September) visiting other households indoors will not be permitted.

·         Advising against car sharing with people outside your own household.

 The First Minister also underlined existing Scottish Government advice that everyone who can work from home, should work from home.  

 The Scottish Government has also announced financial support of £500 for those on low incomes who are required to self-isolate.  

 You can read the First Minister’s full speech here.