The current Covid-19 outbreak has led to a huge amount of people getting in touch with me to ask questions about this. I will endeavour to continue to answer these as quickly as I can, however, below are some frequently asked questions and general advice that may answer your query. Please check these links regularly as information changes and updates quickly.
The latest health advice is available from NHS Inform here. If you develop any coronavirus symptoms (temperature, cough or loss of taste or smell), however mild, you should stay at home and arrange to be tested here. You, and anyone you live with, should remain at home until you get the result of the test, and then follow the advice you will be given based on the result.
As of 29th May we are now in phase 1, meaning some lockdown restrictions have been eased, however those in the shielded group must continue to shield for the time being. Measures that have come into force in Phase 1 include:
One household can now meet up with another outdoors, but physical distancing of 2 metres is still required. Households should only meet one other household within the same day and up to a recommended maximum of eight people in the overall group. People should not share food and drink between households and should not go inside anyone else's home (even to use the bathroom).
Public outdoor spaces can now be used for recreational purposes, for example to sit in a park, sunbathe or have a picnic with physical distancing between households maintained at all times.
You can now travel short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise but should remain in your local area, suggested to be five miles from your house, although people should use their judgement. You should avoid using public transport and walk, wheel or cycle where possible.
Some non-contact outdoor activities within the local area – such as golf, outdoor tennis and angling – can resume provided physical distancing is followed. It does not mean that taking part will always be safe. You should use judgement and take part only if you can do so safely, maintaining physical distancing and not putting yourself or others at risk.
People should continue to work from home if they can but if this is not possible some return to work may be possible if certain precautions are taken – see below section on workplaces.
Advice for businesses on whether they can re-open is available here, but where employees can work from home they should continue to do so. There is further sector specific guidance for manufacturing, construction and retail businesses.
Employers have a duty to their employees to ensure they are safe and if they are being asked to come into work they must ensure proper precautions are taken in line with the guidance and should consider measures such as staggered start times to allow staff to avoid rush hour travel. Employees who are shielding or living with someone who is should not be asked to return to workplaces yet and the Scottish Government expects employees to be flexible with regards to workers who have caring responsibilities, including childcare.
If you feel you are not being treated fairly or are being made to attend work unnecessarily, if you are unionised, speak to your union rep. If you are not unionised ask for written reasons from your employer for their decisions. Even then has a specific risk assessment been undertaken and by whom? You might want to familiarise yourself with S44 of the Employment Rights Act which “provides employee's with the right to withdraw from and refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe”
Please feel free to get in touch with me using the details on my “Contact” tab above if you feel your employer is behaving unfairly despite the above.
This time is challenging for all businesses and that is why both the UK and the Scottish Government has put together a package of support. You should check www.findbusinesssupport.gov.scot to see what is applicable to you. See here for guidance on the UK Government's furlough scheme. There is an HMRC helpline for businesses with questions on furloughing at 0800 015 9559. Small business grant schemes are now accepting applications through the local councils. Go to Scottish Borders Council or Midlothian Council to apply.
I realise that this time is particularly challenging for self-employed workers and sole traders. The chancellor has announced support for you, which you can view here, but I appreciate there are a number of people who will fall through the cracks with this. The Scottish Government has subsequently also announced its own Self Employed Hardship fund for the newly self employed which you can find details of here.
Concerns with Paying Bills
Many people may be concerned about their ability to pay their bills as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. Landlords, lenders and utility companies are expected to be flexible during these exceptional times and if you are worried you may be unable to pay a bill contact the company which issued it as soon as possible to discuss this and see if it can reduce or change your payment plan.
Citizens Advice Scotland can offer free, impartial advice on any issues you might be experiencing and have a number of online resources that may be useful.
Those who have a mortgage can apply for a 3 month mortgage holiday if they are worried about their ability to pay and should contact their lenders to arrange this. Tenants concerned about their ability to pay rent should contact their landlord as soon as possible to discuss. No one should lose their home as a result of Covid-19 and the Scottish Government have suspended all evictions for 6 months in light of this for both private and social tenants. You can get free advice on any housing issues through Shelter Scotland.
For urgent, unplanned issues you can also apply for a crisis grant or a community care grant though your local council - more details on this are available here.
Additional Wellbeing Support and Shielding
The Scottish Government has written to the 200,000 most vulnerable people in Scotland to ask them to “shield” themselves by staying at home completely for 12 weeks - if you are in this group you must still stay at home. This may be challenging for many particularly for those who live alone and as such a package of local support is in place to support you through this, please make sure to sign up for the service as detailed in the letter so you can be updated and contacted as appropriate. If you sign up to the service offered in the letter you will be given the option of priority delivery slots for online grocery shopping and/ or starting weekly deliveries of essential food items including soup, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, tea, coffee and biscuits, as well as toiletries such as shower gel and toilet roll.
The Scottish Government has set up a free hotline for vulnerable people living alone with no family or local support. The helpline will put them in touch with the local authority who can help with things like food or medication needs and you can reach it on 0800 111 4000
The current situation around COVID-19, including concerns around social distancing, is an understandable cause of anxiety and distress for many people, please do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The Scottish Government has provided additional funding for mental health services in light of this - as a first port of call visit www.breathingspace.scot or phone your GP to discuss your concerns.
Children and Families
Schools will re-open on 11th August 2020, using a blend of classroom and at home learning. Your child's school should be in touch in due course to explain how this will work locally, however you can read the Scottish Government's plan here.
Children of parents who live separately can continue to travel between their homes provided sensible precautions are taken (i.e. washing hands on arrival at the house, staying home when at the house and not seeing anyone other than residents of that household). The court service has issued guidance on complying with court orders relating to this which is available to view here.
This time can be really challenging for children and young people and below are some resources that may be helpful in supporting them:
NSPCC Helpline: 0808 800 5000
Young Minds Helpline for Parents: 0808 802 5544
SAAS advice for students is available here. The Scottish Government has also set up additional support, details of which is available here. Your college or university will operate a hardship grant scheme which you may want to consider applying for if you're struggling - contact them directly to discuss how to access this.
If you are an individual who wants to help out, in addition to checking for local groups, please visit Ready Scotland.
If you are a business who wants to offer support with the Covid-19 effort in any way please see here.
You can also visit the SCVO's Community Assistance Directory to find or offer help in your community at www.coronavirus.scvo.org