Pubs and clubs will be bogged down with red tape even though England will have "freedom" (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Monday will be the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in England, where almost all legal requirements around Covid-19 in pubs, clubs and restaurants are scrapped.
The rule of six will be ditched indoors and there will be no need for table service or social distancing.
But that doesn’t mean the end of Covid rules – as massive reams of government guidance released today show.
While the guidance is largely voluntary, venues must still carry out a detailed Covid risk assessment or risk breaking the law.
That means in reality, if they haven’t considered some of the things below they might end up on the hook one way or another.
Unions blasted the guidelines as being unclear because it’s no longer straightforward what firms do and don’t have to do.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all want the economy to unlock as soon as possible. But these new back-to-work safety guidelines are a recipe for chaos and rising infections.
“They have been published without proper consultation with unions or employers, just two full working days before restrictions end on Monday.
File photo dated 14/09/20 of Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the TUC.
“Instead of providing clear and consistent guidance on how to keep staff safe at work, the government is abandoning workers and employers.
“As infection rates surge, every employer must by law carry out a thorough risk assessment and take action to keep their workers safe.
“But these inadequate guidelines will leave many employers with more questions than answers and worried about their liability if they get things wrong.”
Hannah Essex, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Although the Government has removed some specific legal restrictions… businesses still have an overall responsibility to minimise risk to their employees and customers.
“Therefore, many are asking questions about whether they will be held liable should they make changes to the way they operate from July 19.
“Companies now have just five days to make this judgement call and effectively communicate it to their staff and customers.
“This is a tight turnaround, but with cases continuing to rise, we hope the public will understand the need to stick to the Covid safety rules put in place at each individual location.”
So what rules remain in place? Here’s a rundown of the guidance.
Face masks for some – yes, still
Face masks are no longer a legal requirement – but the guidance urges venues to “consider encouraging the use of face coverings by customers and workers, particularly in indoor areas where they may come into contact with people they do not normally meet.
“This is especially important in enclosed and crowded spaces.”
Workers are free to choose to wear a face covering if they want to.
Vaccine passports – but there’s no guidance yet
The government is advising “large, crowded” venues like nightclubs to use an ‘NHS Covid Pass’ – despite the fact it won’t be mandatory.
As a “condition of entry”, these venues will be urged to ask punters over 18 to show they’ve had both jabs, a recent negative test or natural antibodies using the NHS app.
But there is still no guidance on how this will work and the government is only promising it “shortly”. The guidance adds firms must “ensure that you comply” with equalities law, without spelling out the implications of this.
QR code check-ins – but it’s a legal grey zone
Even though it’s no longer a legal requirement, venues are being urged to keep the QR codes that allow people to check in on the NHS app.
But it’s a legal grey area because venues now don’t have to ask customers to check in, or turn them away if they refuse.
And if venues keep the QR code posters, they also need to keep a “system to collect (and securely store) names and contact details for those who ask to check in but do not have the app”
Keep windows open and put punters outside
Venues are told to consider “adequate” ventilation by opening doors, windows and vents or using a non-“recirculating” air-con or venting system.
They are told to identify any poorly-vented spaces using a carbon dioxide monitor and “take steps to improve fresh air flow” – or not use those spaces at all.
This applies especially to dance floors where the raised voices and close contact make the risk of Covid greater.
Just as now, venues are advised to “encourage use of outside space where practical”.
They should also “identify any areas of congestion in your venue and consider if any reasonable steps could be taken to avoid this.”
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Screens, barriers and fewer buffets or leaning on counters
Despite Freedom Day and people’s ability to queue at the bar, the guidance continues to recommend screens or barriers to separate punters from staff.
Likewise, screens are recommended in cloakrooms where they would not harm ventilation.
It also recommends firms could consider “asking customers not to lean on counters when placing orders”, to minimise the amount they touch surfaces.
While buffets will of course not be banned, the guidance suggests venues should “discourage customer self-service” or failing that, clean communal surfaces often.
Despite social distancing measures being axed, the guidance still recommends reducing the contact between members of staff.
This could include using ‘fixed teams’ or ‘partnering’ to that, where possible, staff always work on the same shifts as certain colleagues.
Staff could also work back-to-back or side-to-side rather than face-to-face.
Guidance, signs and lots of hand sanitiser
Venues are asked to consider “advising customers and workers to wash their hands or use hand sanitiser frequently.”
They should also have regular cleaning, which is “particularly important before and after touching shared objects or surfaces that other people touch regularly.”
Keys at hotels should be cleaned between guests, contactless payments used where possible, and there should be “clear guidance” by phone, website, e-mail, signs and “visual aids” on how punters can keep safe.
Cleaning ketchup bottles after each use
Venues are still being urged to only use disposable condiment sachets, or to clean ketchup bottles and salt shakers after every use.
“You should ask your staff and customers to use hand sanitiser and clean their hands frequently, and provide them with advice to promote good hygiene,” the guidance adds.
Turning the sick away
This seems obvious now – but would not have been the norm in the pre-Covid world.
Venues are told to turn away anyone with a new, persistent cough, a high temperature or a loss in change in the sense of taste or smell.
This includes staff, who should like everyone else self-isolate for 10 days once they develop these symptoms, unless they get a test and it comes back negative.
Considering the clinically vulnerable
Firms are advised to give consideration to people at higher risk of Covid, and workers facing mental and physical health issues when deciding how staff return to workplace
The government is not instructing people to work from home if they can, but firms are advised to talk to staff who are nervous about coming in, to advise them on measures that are in place to reduce risk of Covid.