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For the attention of all Chief Executives, Managing Directors and business owners in Oxfordshire

Dear colleague,

I am writing to ask for your continued support in helping suppress the spread of coronavirus in Oxfordshire and to draw your attention to new government guidance and legislation around control measures.

Businesses have a vital role to play in preventing COVID-19 transmission in the workplace and workforce. With this in mind, and in the wake of rising numbers of coronavirus cases across the country, the Government has introduced new measures designed to keep the number of infections down.

Coronavirus cases in the workplace

As an employer, you may become aware of cases of coronavirus in your workplace. If this happens, you must advise your workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate. The latest guidance is available at www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-workplace-guidance.

If multiple cases of coronavirus appear in your workplace (two or more cases would be considered an outbreak), you should contact the local health protection team to report this. If necessary, an outbreak control team will be assigned to help you with advice and support based on your specific circumstances.

Our local health protection team is PHE Thames Valley

Email: tvphe@phe.gov.uk   Tel: 0344 225 3861

Government guidance for businesses on how to recognise, contain and report incidents of coronavirus is available at www.gov.uk/government/publications/reporting-outbreaks-of-coronavirus-covid-19.

Self-isolation

It is now a legal requirement for people in England to self-isolate if they test positive or are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Those who breach self-isolation regulations will face fines, starting at £1,000 and rising to £10,000 for repeat offences.

Workers have a legal duty to inform their employer about a positive test for themselves or somebody they share a home with, and failure to do so can result in an initial fine of £1,000. If an employee reports to you that they have tested positive, you will need to advise them of the self-isolation rules.

Employers who knowingly require or encourage staff to come to work when they should be self-isolating will also be liable for fines, starting at £1,000 and rising to £10,000 for repeated breaches.

Smaller businesses may be able to claim back Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) using the Government’s rebate scheme: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19.

The SSP Rebate Scheme covers all types of employment contracts, including part-time employees as well as those on agency contracts, flexible or zero-hour contracts and fixed-term contracts. We would encourage all employers to offer full pay during sick leave where possible so that no one is disadvantaged by complying with the self-isolation rules.

Those on lower incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result will be eligible for a new £500 Test and Trace Support Payment. Local authorities will be administering the Test and Trace Support Payment schemes, which are expected to be in place by 12 October. Further guidance about Test and Trace in the workplace is at www.gov.uk/guidance/nhs-test-and-trace-workplace-guidance

Collection of data

It is now mandatory for certain businesses to have a system in place to collect NHS Test and Trace data and keep this for 21 days. By law, all businesses should have robust mechanisms in place to support contract tracing. For example, hospitality businesses should be rigorous and thorough in collecting customer information, while in shift work settings clear records should be maintained of who worked which shifts and if these crossed over. This data is vitally important in helping our health protection team to support you and your business in the case of any workplace outbreak. Further information is available at www.gov.uk/guidance/maintaining-records-of-staff-customers-and-visitors-to-support-nhs-test-and-trace.

 

NHS COVID-19 app

The new NHS COVID-19 app is now live. The app is part of the NHS Test and Trace service, which will be used alongside traditional contact tracing to help trace individuals who may have come into contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus. The app allows people to check into venues by scanning a QR code. It also provides them with an alert if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and helps them check if they have symptoms and book a test. Please do encourage your staff and customers to download and use the app. Further information is available at https://covid19.nhs.uk.

QR codes

It is now mandatory for designated venues to display an official NHS QR poster. If individuals choose to check in using the QR code poster, they do not need to sign in via any other route. You can create a unique QR code for your venue using this link: www.gov.uk/create-coronavirus-qr-poster.

Designated venues include:

  • Hospitality services, including pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés
  • Tourism and leisure services, including gyms, swimming pools, hotels, museums, cinemas and theme parks
  • Close contact services, including hairdressers and barbers
  • Facilities provided by Local Authorities for the public, including town halls and civic centres for events, community centres, libraries and children’s centres

 

 

COVID-secure workplaces

We would ask all businesses to review the latest guidance and continue to take measures to ensure that workplaces are COVID-secure and that staff are wearing face coverings where mandated: www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19.

In particular we would like to remind businesses that the risk of transmission in indoor areas and enclosed spaces is higher, so special attention should be given to ensuring such spaces are COVID-secure. The risk is also substantially higher in noisy areas due to the need to speak louder or shout, which increases the likelihood of infectious droplets spreading. Again, special consideration should be given to managing risk in such areas, for example, noisy areas in pubs and restaurants or factory floors or construction sites where workers are exposed to industrial noise.

We have seen that most businesses have put COVID-secure measures in place and this has made a real difference in suppressing the virus. We would like to thank you for all your cooperation and support in achieving this. However, a number of trends have been identified in workplace outbreaks and we would like to share details with you to support your efforts in helping prevent workplace and workforce transmission as far as possible.

While COVID-secure measures have been very effective in many areas of the workplace, some workplace outbreaks have been caused by transmission in shared social areas, such as canteens and tea rooms. Please do ensure that COVID-secure measures are put in place in these areas. Staff may tend to interact socially in larger groups, for example, at the end of a shift, and we would again underline the core message that we all need to reduce our social contact as far as possible outside of our households and/or support bubble to help stop the spread.

Travel to and from the workplace is another area where employers should be mindful. For example, many employees may rely on car sharing to attend work. This can increase the risk of a workplace outbreak, particularly where employees are regularly car sharing with a number of different people. We would recommend that employers discourage car sharing as far as possible, but where it is necessary, please ensure that the following guidance is adhered to:

  • Share transport with the same people each time
  • The driver and passengers must wear a face covering
  • Open windows for ventilation
  • Travel side by side or behind other people, rather than facing them, where seating arrangements allow
  • Face away from each other
  • Consider seating arrangements to maximise the distance between people
  • Clean your car between journeys using standard cleaning products – make sure you clean door handles and other areas that people may touch

A poster is available for businesses to download and display to demonstrate that they have  complied with the Government’s guidance on managing the risks of COVID-19: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/903464/staying-covid-19-secure-2020-230720.pdf. We recommend displaying this poster in a visible area to help build public confidence that your business is COVID secure.

As part of the efforts to create a COVID-secure Oxfordshire, a countywide COVID Secure team is being established, who will provide local support to businesses in implementing new government guidance and a visible and reassuring presence on the county’s streets.

Further government guidance

Local business contacts

Should you have any enquiries regarding your normal business matters, please do not hesitate to contact Cherwell District Council on 01295 227000 or

business.rates@cherwell-dc.gov.uk for business rates, grants and financial matters

economy@cherwell-dc.gov.uk for any other support.

Thank you, once again, for your support and cooperation. We have seen significant increases in the spread of the virus across the UK in the past few weeks, and so the continued support of businesses across Oxfordshire in helping suppress the virus and reduce infection rates is of vital importance in the months ahead.

Yours faithfully

Ansaf Azhar

Director of Public Health

(Chair – Oxfordshire COVID-19 Health Protection Board)