As I write this, there is a definite feel of spring in the air, with the sun shining and daffodils popping up everywhere. That would normally be enough for me to feel a bit more optimistic about the months ahead but this year, there are even more reasons to feel hopeful for the future.

The Covid-19 vaccination programme is going so well (thank you all you wonderful NHS people!) that the government has announced a new target of all over 50s being offered their first jab by the 15th April and the whole adult population having at least their first dose by the end of July.

And the Prime Minister has now announced his 4 step plan for lifting lockdown restrictions in England, re-opening businesses and bringing employees back to work.

For employers and employees, there’s no real change to the current situation until 12th April when non-essential shops, hairdressers, pub beer gardens, theme parks and zoos, gyms and self-catering holiday accommodation can reopen. Slightly larger weddings will be allowed from this date too, although the numbers are still restricted to 15 people. This is exciting news for many businesses including many of my clients, as it means the summer season can get underway although the date does fall a week after the Easter weekend which will disappoint some in the tourism industry here in Cornwall.

The next key date is 17th May when hotels, pubs, cinemas and theatres can reopen. Sporting events can go ahead, with up to 10,000 people allowed in large sporting arenas such as football stadiums. Groups of up to 30 people will be able to mix outdoors and the limit for funerals, weddings, wedding receptions and wakes will also increase to 30.

The final step is on 21st June when all remaining sectors of the economy can reopen and number limits on social gatherings of all types will be lifted. With a few exceptions, this will be us almost getting back to normal.

Employers should prepare early

Whilst it is possible these dates will change if the data isn’t going in the right direction, it is still a good idea for employers to prepare early for reopening, especially if they have staff on furlough.

For those who will be able to reopen in April and May, think about when you might bring furloughed staff back to work and also identify if you have any gaps in your staffing and advertise early to be sure of filling the vacancies. We can help manage the transition from furlough to work and also add new employees to your payroll, so everything is ready for opening day.

There were no announcements today about extending government support beyond the current end date of the furlough scheme of April 2021 so we will keep an eye on any news from the Chancellor.

Almost a year since we first went into lockdown, and assuming the data is reporting good news, it really does look like we can begin to be optimistic about returning to normal, seeing family & friends and getting back to work.