Omicron, as you may already know, is the newest variant to surface during the Covid-19 pandemic. The WHO officially designated it “a variant of concern” on 26th November last year. Thanks to several novel mutations, it could affect the way it behaves.
Research is still being conducted into whether the Omicron variant causes more serious diseases or is more transmissible than other variants. However, there are strong suggestions that while it may be more transmissible it is not quite as strong as the Delta variant. In the following post, we are going to discuss the potential impact the Omicron could have on office workers in the UK.
First Things First, Has The Omicron Variant Reached Here Yet?
Yes, there have been cases of the Omicron variant in the UK. Unsurprisingly, most cases have been found in London, but there have been cases up and down the country, in areas such as Surrey, Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Merseyside, Lancashire, Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Hertfordshire, Essex, Clyde, Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire.
Does the Omicron Variant Mean Office-Based Employees Need to Start Working From Home Again?
Not really. As it stands, Freedom Day, 19th July, was the date when the UK government switched to Step 4 of the roadmap it had laid out for removing the restrictions gradually. On that date, where possible, office-based workers could return to their offices gradually. Many did this towards the end of summer and the start of autumn. However, many others have opted to stick with a more blended or hybrid form of working.
Should Office-Based Staff Wear Face Coverings When Working in the Office?
Masks and face coverings are no longer compulsory. Although measures were reintroduced towards the end of 2021 to provide extra protection against Omicron in shops, close contact service premises, public transport and transport hubs, there is no legal requirement that they need to be worn in other indoor settings anymore. That includes offices.
The government has simply said that it might be worth considering wearing face coverings if you are an office-based employee in areas where there is regular contact with people outside of their normal social and family circles. Special consideration should be given to crowded and enclosed spaces like narrow corridors and lifts, for example.
Have There Been Changes to the Self-Isolation Rules?
As of 16th August 2021, guidance was introduced that exempted specific groups from needing to self-isolate if they had been in contact with a case of Covid-19. This included:
- Fully vaccinated individuals
- Anyone 18 years and 6 months or less
- Anyone who has been participating or participated in a vaccine trial
- Anyone who cannot be vaccinated due to pre-existing medical conditions
As a response to the development of Omicron, the self-isolation rules changed. Anyone who comes into contact with either a confirmed or suspected Omicron variant case, through NHS Track and Trace, needs to self-isolate for at least 10 days, even if they would normally be classified by one of the exemption groups above. These groups will continue to be exempt from self-isolation when they have been in contact with a confirmed or suspected case of any of the other variants.
What About Overseas Business Travel?
The good news is that overseas travel to most places is still possible. The rules, though, have been tightened slightly to reduce and control the cases of Omicron entering the country.
For example, for all international arrivals here to the UK, you need to take a PCR test within at least 2 days of arriving and isolate until you get a negative result. If the test gives a positive result, you need to self-isolate for 10 days. This rule is in place for everyone, including those with double vaccination doses.
Another thing is that numerous African countries were added to the red list for travel from and to the UK. These include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Angola, and South Africa. To arrive in the UK, people need to take a PCR test before they travel and quarantine for 10 days in a managed hotel.
What Other Things Do Employers Need to Think About Regarding Omicron?
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, employers should carefully and closely monitor the Government’s guidance as the situation could change at any point. Risk assessments should be constantly under review and regularly updated when necessary.