Changes are being made to self-isolation rules for close contacts of COVID cases to allow essential staff in critical roles to return to work to maintain lifeline services and critical national infrastructure.
It will be possible to apply to exempt those who work in critical roles where staff shortages are in danger of putting essential services, such as health and social care, transport and the provision of food supplies at risk.
Exemption will only be granted in respect of members of staff who voluntarily agree not to self isolate, and the employers’ duty of care to all their employees must be respected.
Strict conditions will apply – staff must be double-vaccinated and in receipt of their second dose at least two weeks previously. They will also require to have a negative PCR test and to agree to undertake daily lateral flow tests.
Applications may be made via the Scottish Government website.
Exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“It is essential that lifeline services and critical national infrastructure are maintained and we are implementing these changes now – ahead of possible changes to self-isolation rules for close contacts that may apply more generally in future – to ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk.
“We have seen significant staff shortages in a small number of organisations in recent days and we have worked with them to protect services. Applications for exemptions are being considered from today and we will consider applications as they come in.
“Clinical evidence tells us we can safely and effectively release some critical staff from self-isolation, with appropriate safeguards. However, this is a very limited change at this stage, to be applied on a case by case basis and only where absolutely necessary.
“We will not allow key services to be threatened by staff shortages but equally we must continue to protect public health.”
The First Minister set out to parliament on 13 July that changes to self-isolation policy may take effect beyond Level 0.
Under this new process, before a staff member who is a close contact of a positive case can return to work, they must fulfil the following criteria:
- be fully vaccinated, having had their second dose at least 14 days before exposure
- be asymptomatic, and be in possession of a valid vaccination record (available from NHS Inform here)
- have evidence of a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
- return a daily negative lateral flow test for up to 10 days after exposure
- fully comply with any PPE requirements, hand hygiene and other infection control measures
Staff who cannot reasonably isolate from on-going exposure to a COVID positive household member will not usually be asked to return to work.
Applications can be made via the Scottish Government website and will be required to demonstrate:
- that the organisation meets the definition of CNI as set out here Critical National Infrastructure | CPNI
- how self-isolation is impacting critical functions and services
- what steps have already been taken to address this pressure
- the impact of no action
- the scope of the requested exemption – location, number of staff etc
- whether they are currently engaging with a local IMT regarding outbreak management
Health, social care and local services will have a different process and this will be communicated separately.