Different strain variations, changing guidelines and rising coronavirus cases mean we need to remain vigilant and have effective measures in place to keep our people safe.
In a critical attempt to curb the rapid upturn of coronavirus cases, we are in the midst of a third national lockdown. The start of 2021 hasn’t turned out to be the fresh new start we were hoping for, with the country now on the highest alert level.
Businesses are enduring a daily battle to comply with safety rules, with no clear view of when it’s safe to come out of the trenches. While fighting to stay open, new challenges emerge that test all business types. Different strain variations, changing guidelines and rising cases mean we need to remain vigilant and have effective measures in place to keep our people safe.
Similar to the lockdown back in spring 2020, strict protocols have been introduced to urgently stem virus transmissions. While there are varying restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the general consensus is that people should work from home where possible and avoid close contact.
Short-term measures, such as posters, one way systems and extra hand sanitiser stations have been adopted by many companies. It's also important to consider the ongoing, vital and often difficult to manage need to ensure strict social distancing. A recent Honeywell report on workers’ perceptions of, and feelings about, the health and safety of their workplaces revealed that 71% of the UK workforce do not feel completely safe in their employer’s buildings. 59% are worried about their colleagues' behaviour specifically.
Businesses have a duty of care to their workforce and your employees must be at the core of your coronavirus response. Making sure they can work safely and with peace of mind should be top of the agenda as you consider longer-term and more effective measures to ensure social distancing and other health and safety controls are maintained.
Every virus mutates over time, and we're seeing a rise in new coronavirus variants, separated by only a small number of tiny changes in its genetic code. The more people the virus infects, the higher the chance it can mutate into a different strain and variants from the UK, Africa and Brazil are now circulating globally.
Reported to be up to 70% more transmissible, the UK strain spreads more easily and rapidly than other variants. While there is no evidence to suggest that these new variants cause more severe illness or chance of death, an increase in cases puts additional strain on health services, leads to more hospitalisation and puts more lives at risk.
"The more replication, the more opportunities for evolution and adaptation," Richard Neher, Epidemiologist
The more the virus circulates and infects people, the more opportunity it has to develop mutations and for a more harmful variant to emerge. Stringent safety measures that limit or eliminate contact times are essential to curb coronavirus transmissions, helping to reduce the risk of a highly infectious and potentially more deadly strain from emerging.
Keeping up with changing restrictions, scientific findings, almost daily briefings and wall-to-wall 24 hour news reporting can be challenging. It’s advisable to regularly check government guidelines to ensure you are compliant.
The government has recently rolled out a programme of mass testing, targeting people who cannot work from home. The aim is to detect asymptomatic cases as one in three people have COVID-19 without displaying any symptoms. Identifying more positive cases will result in more people self-isolating, limiting the spread and protecting workers.
Another major change involves an official update to contact time. The official NHS Test and Trace page has updated its definition, stating that close contact is now defined as being within two metres of a positive case for more than 15 cumulative minutes. The renewed emphasis on the role of cumulative contact time is a crucial official development, highlighting the importance of monitoring contact time in identifying people who may need to self isolate.
These are significantly challenging times for businesses. Rapidly changing rule changes and a budget planned for early March means it is important to keep up to date with developing guidelines and regulations. Not only will this ensure your compliance, but also means you are doing your part to keep your workforce and the wider community safe.
A collective effort is required to see us through the coronavirus pandemic. We need to use the knowledge we have about where transmissions occur to implement measures we know to be effective. Social distancing, mask-wearing, improved hygiene and provisions to track cumulative contact time can all help prevent virus transmissions, helping us win the fight against COVID-19.
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