Close Contact Isolation in critical sectors
During one week to 16th July, in excess of 600,000 people were notified of a requirement to self-isolate due to close contact with someone testing positive for Coronavirus. This has resulted in significant pressures in providing services in certain sectors, particularly where staff cannot work from home.
The Government has made two key announcements regarding the requirement to self-isolate due to close contact in relation to the NHS and Social Care and other critical service sectors.
Health and Social Care
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced that frontline NHS and social care staff in England who have received two vaccinations and who have been told to self-isolate will be permitted to attend work in exceptional circumstances. This will include staff who have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
The decision to allow NHS and social care staff to attend work after being told to self-isolate should be made on a case-by-case basis, and only after a risk assessment by the organisation’s management.
This must be authorised by the organisation’s local Director of Infection Prevention and Control, the lead professional for health protection, or the Director of Public Health relevant to the organisation
The DHSC has stated that staff must first have a negative PCR test and take daily negative lateral flow tests for a minimum of seven days and up to a total of 10 days or completion of the identified self-isolation period. The exception will apply only where the absence of staff may lead to a significant risk of harm, in view of the potential workforce-related pressures on NHS and social care services; the DHSC has stated that decision-makers will need to carefully consider the comparative risk of onward transmission of COVID-19 compared to the delivery of critical services.
The Government have stated that, in a small number of situations where the self-isolation of close contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, a limited number of named workers may be able to leave self-isolation under specific controls for the purpose of undertaking critical work only.
The test that is applied when identifying if an individual could attend work is whether they work in critical elements of national infrastructure and whether their absence would be likely to lead to the loss or compromise of this infrastructure resulting in one or both of the following:
- major detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or delivery of essential services – including those services whose integrity, if compromised, could result in significant loss of life or casualties
- significant impact on national security, national defence, or the functioning of the state.
This process is only intended to run until 16 August 2021, when fully vaccinated close contacts will be exempt from self-isolation.
Employers providing critical services can request an exemption for named employees who are fully vaccinated. The government says it is “not a blanket exemption for all workers in a sector”.
The areas are:
- Civil nuclear
- Digital infrastructure
- Food production and supply
- Veterinary medicines
- Essential chemicals
- Essential transport
- Medicines and medical devices
- Clinical consumable supplies
- Emergency services
- Border control
- Essential defence outputs
- Local government
Supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt whatever their vaccination status. This does not apply to supermarket store staff.
What to do if this applies to your business
Where employers believe the self-isolation of certain key employees as contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, they should contact the relevant government department (see table below). They should provide information on:
- the number of people who it is proposed would leave self-isolation
- the roles those individuals need to perform
- the impact failure to do this would have and when this impact is likely to materialise (for example, is it already an issue or likely to materialise in the coming days)
The relevant department will work with the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to agree the roles and workplaces that are likely to meet the criteria set out above on a daily basis. The relevant department will then determine whether individual cases meet the criteria set out above.
Where a specific case meets the criteria, the employer will receive a letter from the relevant department setting out the named critical workers designated and telling them what measures they and those workers need to follow.
Unless employers have a letter from a government department on which the workers are specifically named, this policy does not apply and employees should self-isolate as directed.
Who to contact
|Department||Main sectors covered||Contact details|
Food production and supply
Clinical consumable supplies
|MoD||Essential defence email@example.com|
In some exceptional cases there may be critical roles in sectors not listed in the table above which meet the criteria. These will be agreed on a case-by-case basis. Where employers think this applies, they should contact the government department with responsibility for their sector.
Further information is available here https://www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-workplace-guidance#critical-services
It is currently planned that self-isolation due to close contact with cease on 16th August for all individuals that are fully vaccinated, which means they have received two doses of a vaccine with a minimum of 14 days having elapsed since receiving the second dose.
Author: Sarah Edwards, Senior Employment Law Solicitor at Howarths
If you have any questions relating to the above, please get in touch with our Employment Law Team on 01274 864999.