This afternoon (12 Oct), the Prime Minister @BorisJohnson confirmed that Schools and Univerisity campuses would remain open as he set out a three-tier system for England, with Liverpool region under strictest tier, in a statement to the House of Commons.
The University and College Union (UCU) have said the Prime Minister was wrong to declare that universities will stay open under new local restrictions. The union said institutions across the UK need to move to online learning as the default position to prevent more regions entering into new restrictions as Covid infection rates at universities in England and Wales are up to seven times higher than those in the local population, posing a significant public health risk.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:
‘Some local areas are now being forced into harsh lockdowns, which will have severe financial consequences. We have been warning the government for months that a mass return to campus would likely lead to big Covid outbreaks, but the Prime Minister is still insisting that universities continue with in-person teaching.
“To stop more areas being forced into harsher restrictions, we need a nationally coordinated response from government that moves working online at universities to help lower the rate of transmission and stem this crisis, and students must be allowed to return home if they wish once it is safe to do so.’
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, said:
“This latest update from the Prime Minister certainly seems to simplify localised lockdown restrictions, which have previously received criticism for being too complicated. Now, with this new tiered system in place, businesses in areas facing a Tier 3 situation will presumably have more of an idea of what this will mean beforehand, even though full confirmation for specific Tier 3 closures outside of pubs and bars will vary from place to place. In this manner, businesses can potentially aim to be better prepared and avoid breaching the law unintentionally.
“Affected businesses in areas facing Tier 3 restrictions will now need to consider what measures are going to be necessary in response to their business closing, especially as this could be the situation for a prolonged period. They should remember that the furlough scheme can still be utilised until the end of the month, provided they are eligible to do so, albeit with the government providing fewer funds than at the start of the scheme. Going into November, they may then wish to consider using the recently announced Job Support Scheme, through which the government will provide two-thirds of employee wages for eligible businesses if they are forced to shut. The scheme is also to be available, in a different capacity, for businesses that do not need to shut and can provide their employees at least one-third of their normal working hours.
“Businesses based in Tier 2 and Tier 1 restricted areas may breathe a sigh of relief at the news that they have avoided closure for now. Still, they must not become too complacent and continue to keep up to date with all developments. As we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic, the situation can change rapidly, and they may soon find themselves facing the real prospect of Tier 3 closures if infection rates continue to increase in their area. It is also important to remember that, as always, the government is prepared to go further still if they do not believe these new measures are effective.”