Omicron and small business – what are the rules?

Working from home guidance, mandatory face masks and Covid vaccine passports for events. What are the new omicron rules and how do they affect your small business?

Working from home

The Government has recommended people work from home “if they can” from Monday, December 13 in a bid to slow the spread of omicron in workplaces.

Employers are “encouraged to use the rest of this week to discuss working arrangements with their employees”, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at yesterday’s Downing Street press conference.

However, working from home is guidance only and not a legal requirement.

>See also: What is public liability insurance, and does it cover Covid-19 claims?

Face masks

Face masks will become compulsory in most indoor venues from December 10, such as cinemas and theatres, but not in pubs, bars or restaurants.

  • Shops
  • Cinemas
  • Theatres
  • Banks
  • Post offices
  • Hairdressers
  • Beauty salons
  • Tatoo parlours
  • Takeways
  • Estate agents
  • Solicitors
  • Loan providers
  • Vetinary clinics

Face masks must also be worn in taxis, private hire vehicles and driving instruction cars or vans.

They were first made compulsory in shops and on public transport in England in an effort to slow the spread of omicron on November 30.

However, the hospitality sector said the new rules would have a “catastrophic” effect unless the Government offers financial support again, as people cancel restaurant and hotel bookings.

The hospitality industry says the new omicron restrictions threaten to wipe £8bn of sales at the most crucial time of year for pubs, bars and restaurants.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, warned the “double-whammy” of new documentation and work from home guidance could hit revenues at pubs and restaurants by up to 40 per cent over Christmas.

What should I do if someone refuses to wear a mask?

People who refuse to wear a mask will be fined £200, reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days. The fines will double with every offence, rising to £400 for a second infraction and £800 for a third, up to a maximum of £6,400.

However, James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores told the Daily Telegraph that retailers are “extremely concerned” about any abuse they might experience while trying to police the use of masks in store.

Lowman said his advice was to urge stores to communicate the rules, but not to challenge those who refuse to abide by them.

Vaccine passports

Vaccine passports will be required to go to nightclubs and football matches from Wednesday, December 15.

From 6am on December 15, anyone going to “nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather” will have to show proof on the NHS Covid app that they have either been double vaccinated against Covid-19 or had a recent negative lateral flow test.

This includes unseated indoor events with 500 or more people, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more people, and any event with 10,000 or more people present.

Mark Davyd, chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, said: “We are pleased that the government has listened to the grassroots music venue sector and adopted a Covid pass policy that recognises testing.”

But Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said vaccine passports would have a “devastating impact” on the nightime economy. Trade has fallen by 30 per cent in Scotland and 26 per cent in Wales since vaccine passports were introduced there.

Omicron restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Scotland

In Scotland, people have been encouraged to work from home where possible, and the use of vaccine passports has been introduced within settings such as nightclubs, with users expected to illustrate proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.

Wales

Since November 15, vaccine passports have been required for all over-18s entering venues in Wales such as theatres. In addition, individuals over the age of 12 have been required to wear a face covering in indoor settings, with exceptions made for hospitality outlets such as pubs.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, some rules regarding group gatherings remain, with no more than 30 people allowed in private settings. Use of face coverings is also mandatory on public transport, and hospitality settings such as pubs are required to collect customer details for test and trace purposes.

Call to revive furlough

Industry chiefs have accused the Prime Minister of rushing the new omicron rules in to distract from the scandal over an alleged party at Downing Street, which broke lockdown rules a year ago.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, called for clarity around this so-called Plan B and asked what conditions were which would move the country back to Plan A.

The FSB chairman also asked what Government financial support would be introduced if even harsher measures are introduced.

“Plans to control the virus need to be matched by plans to protect the economy and livelihoods,” he said.

And with a rise shop owners being abused if they try and enforce customers wearing a face mask, “business owners simply don’t have the capacity to be enforcement officers for Plan B,” he said.

Matthew Fell, policy director at the CBI business group, told the Financial Times the fresh restrictions were “a big setback for businesses, particularly for those in hospitality and retail who are in a critical trading period”.

“It will be vital that the impact of these restrictions is closely monitored and that the Government is ready with targeted support as required,” he told the newspaper.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, raised the prospect of furlough being reintroduced because of people’s jobs being mothballed due to omicron restrictions.

“News of restrictions has been met with outrage to be honest”, one Conservative MP told the FT. “How do we pay for all of this and can we keep stopping and starting the economy every time a new variant comes? That is not sustainable.”

Further reading

How to boss payroll year-end during Covid-19

Related Topics

Coronavirus
Covid-19
Omicron