Changing COVID-19 rules: Can you afford to isolate?
On February 24, COVID-19 restrictions in England came to an end with the legal requirement to isolate replaced with the guidance to stay at home and by May 1, the rest of the UK had followed suit.
The controversial decision, which was brought forward a month, meant that free testing for the majority would be scrapped and the £500 payment for low-wage workers would also come to an end.
It was dubbed “Freedom Day” by Health Secretary Sajid Javid but as the UK braced for a monumental cost of living crisis and people admitted to being more worried about their finances (38%) than catching COVID-19 (33%), it added to the general sense of financial anxiety sweeping the country.
In this article, we’ll outline what the current COVID-19 rules are, how workplaces are responding, and what the cost of isolating is.
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What are the current COVID-19 rules?
The latest COVID-19 rule shake-up has meant that any restrictions in place since the beginning of the pandemic have formally come to an end.
In most parts of the UK (England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), the legal requirement to wear a face covering has been scrapped but the government strongly recommends that people continue to do so in indoor public spaces and on public transport.
With free testing reserved also scrapped, people exhibiting symptoms of the virus are no longer required to take a PCR test but must stay at home until symptoms improve with test centres closed and the vaccine passport scheme shuttered.
In Wales, it is still a legal requirement to wear a face covering in healthcare settings with First Minister Mark Drakeford emphasising that, despite the rest of the UK’s decision to remove legal protections, case rates remain alarmingly high.
How are workplaces responding?
In the wake of COVID-19 rules being abandoned across the country, employers are, essentially, free to decide which guidelines their employees should follow if they exhibit symptoms or test positive for the virus.
Wilko was forced to apologise for allowing its employees to come into work with COVID-19, however, with the retailer admitting it “got it wrong” and issued “reckless” guidance. The policy stated: “If you test positive for COVID-19 and feel well, you can continue to come to work. If you feel too unwell, you can follow the absence policy.”
Wagamama also came under fire on social media for unfairly dismissing employees that chose to follow proper procedure and isolate after testing positive for the virus since legal restrictions were removed. This isn’t the first time the UK-based restaurant chain has been criticised, however, with a post circulating online in 2017 showing management threatening employees with disciplinary action if they called in sick over the festive period.
In a recent survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), only 48% of 18 to 34 year olds, 53% of 35 to 54 year olds, and 56% of people aged 55 and over complied with isolation guidance from March 28 to April 2.
But with financial support removed for low-income earners, frontline workers unable to work from home, and costs rising across the board, some people have been left with no choice but to go to work with COVID-19.
There is also no legal obligation to inform your employer (or your colleagues) that you have COVID-19 with the responsibility falling on you to make the right decision to protect yourself and the people around you.
What is the cost of isolating?
The sudden drop in financial support is preventing thousands of people from isolating but with free tests also scrapped, millions of people could be unaware they even have COVID-19 with symptoms of the virus almost identical to symptoms of the common cold.
The removal of airport testing earlier this year has also meant that travellers are no longer required to test themselves in the lead up to an overseas holiday or upon their return to the UK. This has led to people choosing to either knowingly or unknowingly travel abroad whilst positive with COVID-19 rather than cancel or reschedule and face losing money in the current cost of living crisis.
It reportedly cost the government £15.7 billion to provide free tests between 2021 and 2022 but with the financial burden shifted to the consumer, people already struggling will be less likely to suddenly pay upwards of £3 for something that has only ever been available free of charge.
In the wake of COVID-19 restrictions coming to an end and the government urging us to learn to live with the virus, a growing number of people are feeling the pressure to choose between their health and their finances.
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