New Covid guidance paves way for office return next Monday

Employers are being urged to bring workers back to the office on a phased basis as Covid restrictions continue to ease.

Workers should be encouraged to start returning to the office from next Monday on a part-time basis, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Tuesday.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, she said employers should facilitate staff spending some time in the office and some time at home.

The latest easing of Covid measures comes after ministers concluded the latest data shows a significantly improved situation.

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Sturgeon said: “Instead of recommending home working whenever practical, the new guidance will pave the way for a phased return to the office.

“It will recommend that, from Monday 31 January, employers should consider implementing hybrid working following appropriate guidance – with workers spending some time in the office and some time at home.

“We would not expect to see a wholesale return to the office next week – indeed, given that the level of infection, though falling, remains high, a mass return at this stage is likely to set progress back.

“But we know there are many benefits to both employees and employers, and to the economy as a whole, in at least a partial return to the office at this stage.

“Indeed many businesses successfully implemented hybrid working last autumn.

“And so as part of a phased return to the office, we will again encourage employers to consider hybrid working, and look to them to determine how best to manage this transition in consultation with workers and trade unions.”

The First Minister announced several other changes including to the guidance on organised activities for children.

From Friday, face coverings will no longer be required for any adult taking part in organised activities when they are directly interacting with children under the age of five.

The requirement for two metre physical distancing – introduced for indoor settings where people have a specific exemption from the need to wear a face covering – is being reverted to one metre.

But Sturgeon said the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings remains in place for now.

She said: “I know young people want to see the back of them as soon as possible. But I also know that many young people understand and agree – especially when cases in the younger age group are rising that face coverings do provide important protection.

“So this is a matter that requires and will receive careful consideration.”

The changes come after the Scottish Government announced further changes to international travel requirements on Monday.

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Fully-vaccinated passengers arriving in Scotland will no longer have to take a post-arrival lateral flow test from 4am on February 11.

At present, travellers still need to take a test on or before day two after arriving in Scotland, which can be a lateral flow device rather than a PCR test.

But that requirement is now being dropped in a further easing of travel rules, just weeks after it was announced that passengers no longer had to take pre-departure Covid tests or self-isolate upon arrival until they had received a negative result.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the First Minister’s stance on easing work-from-home restrictions doesn’t go far enough.

He said: “The First Minister’s statement says that, from the end of January, guidance on working from home will still advise against a ‘wholesale return to the office’. 

“While some people will still want to work from home, why doesn’t the First Minister leave that decision up to employers and workers? And what does she think this means for the many businesses who rely on workers being in the office and back in our town and city centres?”

Ross also criticised the Scottish Government’s decision not to remove the need for school pupils to wear face masks.

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“Throughout this pandemic, there has been agreement that children’s education must come first,” he said. 

“But right now, adults can sit in workplaces and pubs without face masks, while young people in a classroom are still required to wear them. 

“Advisors and experts are in agreement that they are no longer necessary. So what is Nicola Sturgeon waiting for? Why has the Scottish Government not set a date for the removal of masks in classrooms? 

“Parents, pupils and teachers have been left in the dark once again.”