A number of European countries have been hit by a second wave of COVID-19 infections – including, unfortunately, the UK – but Spain has been hit the hardest. Today, the Prime Minister will lay out his plans for the next stage of the UK’s response, rumoured to include a ‘three-tiered lockdown system’ that will devolve greater powers to local government, but chances are it won’t include the sorts of measures that the Spanish government are pursuing in infection-hotspots like Madrid.
Madrid has become one of the first major cities in the world to attempt rapid testing on a large scale. In certain neighbourhoods with climbing infection rates, like Entrevías, residents are contacted via text to attend a drop-in clinic. Local authorities intend to test as many people as possible in these areas. When residents arrive at the clinic, an external temperature reading is taken with a non-contact infrared thermometer (like the one included in our Return2Work kit).
This is an unexpected feature of the scheme but the logic is clear. Taking the patient’s temperature will give the authorities information about their condition which might not be captured by the rapid test. For example, the patient may return a negative test but still have a temperature indicative of infection, meaning that the patient may indeed have COVID-19 but as yet remains non-contagious. This may mean that they will have to return the following day for another rapid test to track their progress, as well as receiving a more comprehensive PCR test from a local hospital to see if they have contracted a smaller amount of COVID-19. It also means that the margin for error in the test’s 93% accuracy-rate might be curbed by giving an indication as to when a patient might have received a false negative.
Once inside the drop-in clinic, a nasal swab is taken by a trained volunteer, placed in the buffer solution to settle and then squeezed onto the cassette. The resident then waits just 15 minutes for the results. Depending on the result, the resident may be free to return to work or must self-isolate – which potentially means that those they live or have had significant contact with must do so, as well.
We will have to watch cautiously over the next few weeks to see whether this programme is able to curb the infection rates in Madrid. But by any reasonable estimate, it seems highly likely to do so. With these tests being so cheap at just €5 (or £4.50), the authorities can test huge numbers of people, detecting infectious residents as soon as possible, even if they are asymptomatic. Similarly, it also identifies safe residents, allowing local business to continue its recovery where possible, so that those who have to self-isolate are supported by a network of those who currently do not.
It’s important to remember this, however: we have known that such a scheme was possible for months. Britain should have been the first to implement one, not Spain.
We must be next.
To view our range of products for COVID-19 protection, including our rapid test kits, take a look at our online shop.
The next phase of the government’s response to the pandemic begins on Friday as face coverings become mandatory in various public spaces. It is unclear why exactly the government has chosen to do this. Although the pandemic rages on, we are still seeing sustained decreases in infection rates. A number of explanations have been given, most of which revolve around increasing the confidence of shoppers. Understandably, the government is desperate to give the British economy a jump-start and hope that these measures will encourage demand.
However, if this is the case, it doesn’t seem to explain why the government is punishing non-compliance, rather than simply advising compliance. It is worth re-emphasising then that COVID-19 remains a real danger to public health, as the recent outbreak in Leicester demonstrated. So, if they are effective, wearing a mask would definitely be in the public’s best interest.
One of the other problems with this new legislation is that it promises to create a whole bunch of complications for small businesses. Our plan with this blog is to untangle some of these, to give small businesses the confidence to weather this phase of the crisis.
What Are You Legally Required to Do?
From July 24, face coverings will be mandatory in shops, supermarkets and on public transport. It is worth emphasising that pubs, cafés and restaurants are not subject to these rules, according to a government spokesperson contacted by the BBC.
Now, the brunt of the legislation falls on the public, rather than transport operators or business owners. For example, the system of fines attached to these measures only apply to the public. The fine for not wearing a face covering in these public spaces is £100, although this halves to £50 if the perpetrator pays within 14 days. This does not mean that there can be no repercussion for business owners, however – the government has stated that they ‘will be expected to encourage compliance with the law’. It is only that there are no prescribed punishments in the legislation for non-public actors.
The government does explain how business owners can legally respond to those breaking these new laws. Most notably, businesses can ‘refuse entry’. Since the legislation gives the police the power to fine members of the public, businesses therefore have recourse to requesting their aid in dealing with non-compliant customers.
Many readers will have already observed that these new measures pose a number of challenges for small businesses. The pandemic has already been disastrous for many small businesses, especially those which require proximity to customers. For such businesses, this legislation reads as yet another major threat to their livelihoods.
For many small businesses, relationships of trust are crucial. Whether it is the trust and loyalty of frequent patrons or the necessity of making that initial impression as a trust-worthy establishment, small businesses rely heavily on the interactions with customers that might be hamstrung by this legislation. For example, consider the situation of a trusted customer entering your shop without a mask – do you risk offense and ill-will by asking them to leave? Similarly, how much new business are you willing to turn away in compliance with this legislation?
In discussing the role of transport operators to their customers, the government states that they can ‘direct some to wear a face covering’. There is no requirement for transport operators or business owners to have face coverings on hand, however, and no mention of such a practice in general. However, having a number of masks available at your workplace, staff can give them to customers entering without a mask, preventing a loss of business.
The Perfect Mask
So far, we’ve skipped over one of the most important aspects of this development: are masks even effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19?
There has been considerable debate within the scientific community on this topic. Yet, as it stands, there is no debate around whether masks are effective, only how effective they might be.
The picture that virologists paint about masks looks something like this. COVID-19 is spread predominantly by droplets originating in the mouth, nose and throat, partly because of the distance these droplets can cover as a result of the air propelled when someone exhales or speaks. Similarly, the virus’ main entry-point into the body is the mouth, hence all the guidance about refraining from touching your face. Masks are designed as a barrier to these infectious droplets, regardless of whether they are coming from the wearer themselves or another person in close proximity to them. Therefore, masks prevent both the infected from spreading the virus and the non-infected from catching it.
If you’d like a more comprehensive explanation, take a look at this video:
As might be clear to you, the effectiveness of the mask depends upon the quality of the mask. Luckily, the most effective masks are fairly simple to make and as such, relatively inexpensive, made from pieces of cotton attached to string or elastic straps. Many have become interested in so-called “valved” masks which appear to be far more high-tech and therefore more secure than the regular cotton mask.
However, there have been rising concerns about these masks, which are nevertheless still far less popular than their cheaper cotton counterparts. Of course, these concerns are more pressing in light of this new legislation, which will spur a drastic increase in the wearing of masks.
Recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s decision to wear a one of these masks became a flashpoint for the debate over their effectiveness. A number of virologists penned concerned letters and articles, including Dr Bharat Pankhania of the University of Exeter Medical School, who highlighted the filtering valves on the mask, supposedly a further protection, as having the potential to exaggerate the possibility of spreading COVID-19 by creating a ‘high-velocity flow of air from the mouth … which could create a plume of infection.’ In India, where the masks are more common, the government has had to issue an official statement against their use.
So, the regular cotton mask remains the most effective which is hand since they are so much more affordable than the alternative. If you’re still in need of a mask for yourself or a number of masks for your workplace, head on over to our online shop or our eBay page to get your hands on some.
As an SME, we’ve been eager to find information on managing the risks to our employees’ health. Luckily, there are a number of resources available to small businesses who have already re-opened or are set to reopen in the coming weeks.
Much of the guidance focusses on changes to work-flow or organisation. For example, maintaining social distancing is an essential requirement for any business operating in the near-future, so you might consider bright floor-markers which guide your employees through their procedures whilst ensuring they are two metres apart. Similarly, the cleaning of surfaces will have to occur more frequently, prompting suggestions to reduce working hours in order to maintain this necessarily high standard of cleanliness.
In addition to these sorts of changes, improvements in personal hygiene practices while at work will also be required. Instituting protocols such as frequent hand-washing (especially in workplaces which will be serving customers in person), the tying up of long hair and, where possible, a strict separation of work materials between employees, i.e. distributing digital copies of documents instead of sharing physical ones, attempting not to share pens, keyboards, mugs, chairs, etc. A determining factor in the efficacy of these measures appears to be generalising the use of PPE within your workplace.
One of the most important aspects of new workplace practice is the protocol for determining and reacting to the infection of an employee. Yet, this is a discussion missing from many of the available guides and checklists.
At Lab Solutions, we had an idea. If small businesses had some convenient means to detect infection, they might be able to respond quickly enough to prevent further contamination. That’s why we’re offering Return2Work, a COVID-19 response kit which includes surgical gloves, masks, an external thermometer and a quick blood-test.
Alongside all the other preventative measures that have been outlined so far, Return2Work’s external thermometer in particular might be a helpful addition to your new health and safety procedures. For example, by monitoring the temperatures of employees as they enter work at the beginning of the day and leave at the end, you can stay abreast of any stark increases. These measurements will then indicate whether someone needs to use Return2Work’s quick blood-test, which will confirm whether the temperature increase is a result of COVID-19.
Staying aware in this way gives you the freedom to be versatile in your health and safety procedures, tightening or loosening your protocols depending on the results of tests. This versatility is possible because Return2Work gives you both greater power to prevent and respond to infection.
If you feel that Return2Work might be useful for your business or would like further information, visit our website.
As the country prepares to return to work over the next few months, many small businesses are wary of the risks that doing so poses to their employees. At Lab Solutions, we’ve been eager to find some information on mitigating these risks. Luckily, we found a number of online resources that can provide you with both legal guidance and practical advice.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has released a number of downloadable guides for businesses in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These guides relate to a number of specific industries and workplaces. Depending on the nature and size of your business, then, you may have to use a few of these guides in combination. Different guidance is available for education and childcare as well as the transport industry.
Alongside specific guidance for different sectors, a more general checklist has been released. Of primary importance, the checklist states, is carrying out a COVID-19 risk assessment that meets the criteria of the Health and Safety Executive. The organisation has published these criteria alongside further information on generalising hygiene procedures, maintaining social distancing and other practices to ensure the safety of your workplace in this guide.
In response to these guidelines, the Federation of Small Businesses has published its own advice to ensure that you have the resources to implement them in an even more diverse range of workplaces. For example, their health and safety checklist includes a discussion of customer safety which considers the possibilities for maintaining social distancing and minimising surface-transmission by altering the layout of your workplace, i.e. separating exit and entrance doors or shifting to a kiosk-style, semi-outdoor way of serving where possible.
Similarly, the Federation’s Legal Hub – for which you’ll need an account with the organisation – provides free risk assessment templates as well as updates and guidance on the specifics of the law regarding business practices as it evolves over the coming months. Indeed, both the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Federation of Small Businesses offer an invaluable service as news sources for companies at this time.
Using these guides and checklists, we have been able to adapt our business to this new economy without serious losses to productivity and the breadth of information available means that whatever your business, you can adapt, too. Why wait?