Covid rule changes in Scotland explained as Nicola Sturgeon ends legal requirements

Nicola Sturgeon has announced the remaining legal requirements on battling covid in Scotland will end next month.

It means it won’t be mandatory to wear face coverings in public places from March 21 and the covid vaccine passport scheme will be ditched from Monday.

But some of the changes announced by the UK Government this week will also have an impact in Scotland – particularly when it comes to employment.

Should I continue to self-isolate if I catch covid?

The First Minister said people who test positive for Covid-19 should continue to isolate in Scotland.

The legal requirement for infected people to self-isolate in England will be lifted from this Thursday, Boris Johnson previously said.

Although there has never been a legal requirement in Scotland, Sturgeon said the guidance to isolate would remain.

Any changes to the recommended period of self-isolation will be considered on an ongoing basis.

Will lateral flow tests remain free in Scotland?

Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that is her preference and tests will remain free for at least another month while she seeks clarity from Whitehall on future funding.

The First Minister said she was frustrated that there was no guarantee on Treasury funding to carry on handing tests out to the public in Scotland when the system comes to an end in England in April.

A detailed transition plan on the future of Scotland’s test and protect programme is due to be published next month.

The legal requirement to wear a face mask in Scotland is ending
The legal requirement to wear a face mask in Scotland is ending

Should I still wear a face mask in public places?

Although the legal requirement to wear one is set to end on March 21, the Scottish Government strongly advises you should still do so when using public transport or in a busy environment like a shop.

If someone who cannot work from home has tested positive but is not feeling ill, should they go to work, and will they get sick pay to self-isolate?

Employment law is reserved to Westminster, meaning companies in Scotland follow UK Government guidance on issues like sick pay.

Whether staff are entitled to sick-pay will depend on their employer’s policy – as ultimately it will be up to them to decide if they want staff with covid in the workplace.

Pam Loch, managing partner at Loch Solicitors, says: “If an employer says to an employee, who is fit to work, that they must not attend work, then the employer would be liable to pay full pay unless the person can work from home or government decides to change the rules on this.

“An employer would have to change the employment contract so there is no obligation to pay full pay if they send employees home, unless the employer can argue they could not lawfully have you at work while you have Covid-19.”

If an employee decides to stay at home themselves, then they are not entitled to be paid unless it’s an agreed period of absence.

I don’t want to catch covid at work. What must my employer do to protect me?

Your employer has a duty of care to all employees and must ensure it operates a safe working environment.

Employers will have to consider what their position is on positive tests and update policies after a risk assessment.

For example, if they have a number of clinically vulnerable staff working for them, the employer may not want to allow staff who test positive to attend the workplace.

If an employer finds one of their staff has covid, should they tell them to stay at home and should they still be paid?

Once the legal requirement for self-isolation changes, it is likely covid absences will need to be handled in the same way as any other respiratory conditions such as flu and colds.

So employers don’t have to tell employees to stay at home simply because they have tested positive unless that is in line with the company’s obligation to provide a safe place of work. This will depend on their covid risk assessment.

If a worker can work from home and gets covid, but their boss says they have to go into the office, can they be disciplined for refusing?

If the employer does not think it’s unsafe to attend work and they think it is a reasonable management instruction to attend the office, then the employee could be disciplined if they refuse to attend, unless the UK Government changes the rules on this.

However, employers should consider carefully the reasons someone is refusing to attend the office.

If some of their colleagues are extremely vulnerable, for instance, they may be required to be more understanding.

If you only have mild symptoms how safe is it to go into an office or other workplace?

Azeem Majeed, professor of public health at Imperial College London, said: “The question you should ask yourself is, ‘Would you be comfortable being in the same office as someone who had a positive Covid-19 test the day before?’

“Employers will need to carry out risk assessments and implement their own infection-control policies.

“My advice would be for employers to remain cautious for now and advise employees with symptoms or a positive Covid-19 test to stay off work for a period until we have more experience about the effect of the change in rules.”

I was told to shield during the lockdowns and I am now triple-jabbed. Is it safe for me to go to places where people might have covid?

Prof Majeed said: “If you are in a group that was advised to shield during lockdowns, Covid-19 still poses a risk to you even if you are fully vaccinated. You should continue to wear a well-fitting FFP2 mask in places like shops and on public transport.

“Whether you go to places with a higher risk of Covid-19 such as nightclubs is a personal decision that you need to take but I would
advise being cautious until infection rates in the community fall further.”

If everyone is going about normal life even if they have covid, what’s likely to happen to infections?

Prof Majeed said: “In recent weeks, the number of Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths have been falling.

“The high level of immunity in the population from vaccination and previous infection should keep the number of serious cases of Covid-19 at a manageable level.

“However, people’s immunity does decline over time, which is why the UK Government has just announced that those at highest risk from Covid-19, people aged over 75 years and those with weak immune systems, will be offered another booster vaccination.”

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