New self-isolation exemption scheme for ‘critical workers’
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.
People who work in the emergency services, government and finance could also qualify for an exemption.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the changes would "ensure staff shortages do not put key services at risk".
Previously anyone who came into contact with someone who had tested positive must isolate for 10 days.
The new scheme will allow employers to apply to the Scottish government for permission to exempt those who work in critical roles and where staff shortages could jeopardise essential services.
The exemption will only be granted where workers have voluntarily agreed not to self-isolate.
The Scottish government has said employers who meet the definition of Critical National Infrastructure can apply for the exemption. There are 13 national infrastructure sectors:
- Civil Nuclear
- Emergency Services
Dr Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said:
“We have been calling for the Scottish and UK Governments to adapt self-isolation requirements for workers who have been double vaccinated, recognising that we are in a different position in the pandemic from a year ago.
“The changes announced today by the Scottish Government are a step in the right direction but they still leave many businesses and sectors facing the worrying prospect of staff absences as the exemptions do not go far enough.
“Even for those sectors who will qualify for this critical worker scheme, the criteria and process for applying for exemption is overly restrictive and requires a lot of evidence. An application-based process is very likely to create delays and logjams as each application is to be considered on a ‘case by case’ basis.
“While it is welcome to see general alignment between the Scottish and UK Government on a ‘critical worker’ scheme, the UK Government have created a separate scheme that is focused on the food & drink industry which would appear to be wider in scope. No such similar scheme has been unveiled for Scotland and we urge the Scottish Government to give this serious consideration.
“The Scottish Government is almost certain to face a large number of applications for exemptions in the coming days. They must be adequately resourced to respond fairly and quickly to businesses, who require fast turnaround on decisions. They must also consider alternative measures for ‘non-critical’ roles to allow for more double vaccinated people to avoid self-isolation, such as the above UK Government scheme which relies on daily COVID testing or direct financial compensation.”
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