Politics

Covid Scotland: Work from home advice to be phased out from Monday as optimism continues


Businesses should consider hybrid working for their employees from Monday, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs in a Covid-19 update.

The move was welcomed by business leaders, who called on the Scottish Government to allow employers and employees to “decide what is best” for themselves going forward.

Covid cases and hospitalisations continue to fall in Scotland, the First Minister said, as she urged Scots to enjoy “whatever it is you are looking forward to doing again” following the easing of Omicron-related restrictions.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, giving a Covid-19 update to parliament on January 18.

There will be no change to face mask guidance in school, which is being kept “under close review”.

Children under 15 are the only age group in which Covid cases are still rising, which Ms Sturgeon said may reflect the return to school earlier this month.

“On the issue of face coverings, I know young people want to see the back of them as soon as possible,” she said.

“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 Scottish Conservatives called on the Government to remove the face covering requirement in schools.

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

“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.”

Mr Ross also called for decisions around working from home to be left up to workers and employers.

The First Minister said employers should consider implementing hybrid working, following appropriate guidance, from Monday.

She said: “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.”

Business leaders welcomed the move away from advice to work from home.

“The First Minister has made the right decision today, which will finally enable the reopening of offices and provide the freedom of choice for employees and employers to decide how and where they work,” said Dr Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.

“With the green-light given by the First Minister today, businesses now have the certainty to fully deploy their hybrid models which have been developed in partnership between employees and employers.

“We can now get to work to revive our workplaces and our town and city centres, which have been hit hard by the absence of office workers.”

Dr Cameron added: “It is clear that the time for directional guidance has now passed and it must be accepted by Government that it is best to enable employers and employees to decide what is best for them.”

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The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) also welcomed the move, saying it would provide a boost to city and town centre businesses that had seen a drop in footfall.

“The rescinding of the work-from-home order and the return of commuters and office workers is great news and should give a much-needed fillip to shopper footfall, particularly in Scotland’s larger towns and city centres,” said SRC director David Lonsdale.

“City centre stores have been especially hard hit by the exodus of office workers, civil servants, students and tourists during the pandemic.”

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association said the return to offices would “breathe life” back into city and town centres.

Managing director Colin Wilkinson said: “This, coupled with the relaxation of rules surrounding table service and physical distancing in licensed premises, very much gives our industry hope for a more normal 2022.”

Some further measures will be eased from Friday. A requirement for two metre distancing indoors for those not wearing a face covering – for example, leaders of religious services – will drop to one metre.

And adults involved in organised indoor activities for children under five will no longer need to wear a face covering.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed changes to international travel already announced this week.

From February 11, double-vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take a test after arriving in Scotland, though they will still need to fill out a passenger locator form.

The UK nations will work on a new surveillance system to identify variants of concern without this testing on arrival, Ms Sturgeon said.

She said the Scottish Government could not rule out tightening travel restrictions again if a new variant emerged.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar urged the First Minister to sign on to his party’s proposals to live with the virus.

The Labour proposals, which were unveiled on Monday, called for putting “triggers” in place for the imposition of restrictions, a framework of business support if measures return, ongoing capacity in testing and vaccination and the “pandemic-proofing” of schools.

The First Minister said: “We will look seriously at the proposals that Anas Sarwar puts forward as we will look seriously at proposals anyone puts forward. I have said this before, we will consult widely as we develop the updated strategic framework over the coming weeks.

“It’s important we get that right.”

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