Plans for future lockdown?

Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell wonders if a complete lockdown – if and when it comes – should affect home improvement in the same way as before.

As the country teeters unwillingly on the edge of another national lockdown, employers are, quite rightly, planning for how that may play out.

While locking down completely on March 24 was probably the right move, many are now proceeding with the assumption that we don’t need to be quite so severe with our response the second time around.

The first place to look is Wales, where a national lockdown is already in place.

Helpfully, on the government’s website, there is already the question: “Can I carry out building, repair or maintenance work in someone’s home?”

The response is:

Work carried out in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople, can continue as long as it is managed in a safe way and both the worker and household members are well and have no symptoms of coronavirus. However, we recommend that people consider whether the work can be safely deferred until after this short lockdown.
Like other businesses, people working in someone else’s home must take all reasonable measures to ensure to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spreading when working in other people’s households. Please see the guidance on reasonable measures
[2m rule, basically] and on working in other people’s homes [see below] for more information.

It is also recommended that no work should be carried out in any household where someone is isolating, unless it is to repair a fault which poses a direct risk to people’s safety – for example, emergency plumbing, or carry out an adaptation to allow that household to remain in their property. If attendance is unavoidable (because of an urgent or emergency situation), additional precautions should be taken to keep workers and householders completely separate from each other. In these cases, Public Health Wales can provide advice to tradespeople and households. But no work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.

The guidance for working in other people’s homes is comprehensive and reassuring in the sense that it lays the groundwork for home improvement to continue, even in a lockdown (it was last updated on October 23, the start of the second Welsh national lockdown).

The guidance for tier 3 in England, and level 4 in Scotland doesn’t cover home improvement specifically, but says construction should continue.

This was a major sticking point during the first lockdown because it left people scratching their heads, leaving individual companies to decide which course of action was the safest.

However, given the shock to the system felt by the supply chain at the end of March, and the way it affected the response to the increased demand at the beginning of June, I imagine that most people will be reluctant to shut down operations completely a second time around.

Furthermore, working from home has now been tried and tested, so any issues on that front should have been ironed out.

It’s not going to be easy. Going through the different government websites, with their different tier systems, and different exclusions, left me more confused than before I started the research.

When we had those big online industry discussions in April/May, I was amazed that ‘clear’ government advice could result in different levels of interpretation. There is no way that it has become any clearer.

On the other hand, to give us some context, while tighter restrictions were preventing some people from eating out during tier 2 restrictions in London, some restaurants exploited a loophole that allowed business lunches to continue unhindered. In some cases, groups of 30 people were gathering under the pretext of business meetings. The government response? None.