Below is our weekly roundup of changes to government support information generally and for businesses, employers and the self-employed.

Prime Minister confirms move to Plan B in England

The Prime Minister confirmed last week that England will move to Plan B following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.

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The most recent data suggests that Omicron has a very high growth rate and is spreading rapidly. As seen in previous waves, a swift rise in cases can lead to a rapid rise in hospitalisations, which will quickly lead to pressure on the NHS.

As a result of this data the government has confirmed Plan B measures will come into force while more data on vaccine efficacy and disease severity is assessed. Plan B was set out in September and will help to slow the spread of the variant and reduce the chances of the NHS coming under unsustainable pressure, while buying time to deliver more boosters.

The government will continue to look closely at all the emerging data, but vaccines remain the best line of defence and it is now more vital than ever that those who are unvaccinated come forward.

Testing will also be a vital tool in controlling the spread given the likely increased transmissibility of Omicron. As there is now demonstrated community transmission of Omicron, the government intend to introduce daily contact tests for contacts of confirmed positive cases instead of the ten-day self-isolation period.

The government advises that everyone should test using a lateral flow device, particularly before entering a high-risk setting involving people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with, or when visiting a vulnerable person. Lateral flow devices remain free of charge and can be collected from local pharmacies.

From Friday 10 December, face coverings will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings.

From today, Monday 13 December, those who can are advised to work from home.

From Wednesday 15 December, and subject to parliamentary approval, the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.

People will be able to demonstrate proof of two vaccine doses via the app. Having considered the evidence since the emergence of Omicron, proof of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted.

The government will keep the data under review. The regulations set to expire six weeks after implementation, with a review after three weeks.

A full list of guidance on these changes is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-autumn-and-winter-plan-2021/covid-19-response-autumn-and-winter-plan-2021#plan-b

UK marks one year since deploying its first COVID-19 vaccine

Last year the UK administered the first COVID-19 vaccine in the world, outside of clinical trials. On 8 December 2020, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan received a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, administered by Matron May Parsons.

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Since then the vaccination programme has been considered a success with more than 120 million doses administered, and the UK has now administered more than 22 million third doses.

In light of the new Omicron variant and following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the government is expanding the booster programme to all adults over 18 and announced that all eligible people will be offered a top-up jab by the end of January, as well as halving the minimum gap between second doses and boosters.

The NHS confirmed an expansion of the booster programme, with the National Booking Service now open to all those aged over 40 to book their jabs. The dose interval has also been shortened from six months to three months, with those eligible now able to book a month in advance – two months after their second dose.

All adults in England are to be offered a booster jab by the end of the year. The devolved administrations have also agreed to accelerate vaccinations.

See: UK marks one year since deploying world's first COVID-19 vaccine - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

File Companies House accounts early and online to avoid delays

December is always a busy time with many companies due to file accounts with Companies House (CH) before the end of the month.

As CH are continuing to follow the UK government guidance for working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19), this means it could take longer than usual to process paper documents sent by post.

Their online services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - and there are inbuilt checks to help you avoid mistakes.

To file online, you’ll need your company authentication code. If you need to request a new code, you should allow up to 5 days for this to arrive at the company’s registered office.

You should only send paper accounts if your company cannot file online. Accounts filed on paper need to be manually checked and processed by CH teams during office opening hours.

See: File Companies House accounts early and online to avoid delays - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Driving and riding safely for work – updated guidance from HSE

For most people, driving or riding will be the most dangerous work activity they do. Around one third of all road traffic collisions (RTCs) in Britain involve someone driving or riding as part of their job and countless other RTCs involve people travelling to or from their workplace.

Although the risks cannot be completely controlled, employers or companies, including those in the construction sector, who engage drivers and riders, must take all reasonable steps to manage these risks and do everything reasonably practicable to protect people from harm in the same way as they would in a fixed workplace.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) new webpages have been created following HSE and Department of Transport consultation with stakeholders.

They contain clear, simple guidance for employers and those who engage drivers and riders on how to make sure the journey, driver and vehicle are safe. For workers and those who drive and ride for work, it outlines their responsibilities.

See: Driving and riding safely for work - HSE

The Circular Future Fund: The Million Pound Challenge

In partnership with Hubbub, the John Lewis Partnership is launching a £1 million fund to support trailblazing ideas and innovations that can accelerate the transition towards a more circular economy.  

Whether it's rethinking waste with new products or materials, finding creative ways to shift consumer mindsets or developing new business models and services, then the Challenge would like to hear from you. 

The fund will provide grants between £150,000 to £300,000. If you would like to be involved, then complete your application by 9 January 2022.

See: The Circular Future Fund — Home

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