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Covid update

5 January 2021

England and Scotland today join Northern Ireland and Wales in nationwide lockdowns. Here is an update about what we know at this stage.

Primary eye care

Opticians remain open across the UK to meet eye care needs.

In England and Scotland, the College of Optometrists has advised the sector to continue following amber guidance and prioritising emergency and essential eye care. The College plans to issue more detailed guidance later today.

In Scotland, the Dentistry and Optometry Division, Directorate of Primary Care said: "The Scottish government will shortly be issuing a PCA providing further information for the optometry sector. In the meantime, all optometry practices are reminded that they must remain open, continue to scrupulously follow all relevant Infection Prevention and Control measures and guidance, and continue to prioritise emergency and essential care and those patients who are at greatest risk of detriment to sight or wellbeing."

Members should continue to follow all official Covid-19 IPC guidance and keep up to date with developments.

Access the FODO Covid-19 resource hub and contact us seven days a week for support in the usual way.        

Extremely clinically vulnerable (shielding) people

In England, the government is advising the clinically extremely vulnerable to begin shielding again. They should only go out for medical appointments and exercise or if it is essential. If they cannot work from home, then they should not attend work (read more).

In Scotland, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has written to everyone on the shielding list with detailed advice.

People on the list should "stay home as much as possible" although they "can still go out for exercise and essential shopping or medicines". However, they are advised to "strictly follow the guidelines when shopping and limit the number of times you go to a shop. Shop at quieter times".

If they cannot work from home, the advice is "not to go to work". They can use the CMO letter as "shielding notification" and show it to their employer as "a fit note for as long as lockdown restrictions are in place". A GP’s fit note is not required (read more


In England, the children of key workers should have access to school provision (read more). Optical staff are regarded as key workers.

In Scotland, from 5 January to 29 January, children of Category 1 and Category 2 key workers will continue to have access to schools (read more). In most cases, optical staff will be Category 2 key workers. 

Financial support

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a new business grant for retail businesses across the UK. At this stage it is not clear whether essential retail premises will be eligible for this grant and we will update members as soon as more information is available. In addition, £594m is available for businesses not eligible for the grants which might be affected by the restrictions. Read more

To check whether your business is eligible for other financial support, you can use the coronavirus financial support tool.

The government has extended the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) until 30 April 2021. Check if you can claim and what to do next.

If you intend to apply for the latest instalment of the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS), you must make your claim on or before 29 January. 

Training and education

In England, the government has said that students who are undertaking training and study for "subjects allied to medicine/health" can return to "face to face learning as planned and be tested twice, upon arrival or self-isolate for 10 days". We expect ABDO and the College of Optometrists to announce later this week whether this includes dispensing optician and optometry courses in England and the rest of the UK.

More detail

On 4 January, the UK's four Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) recommended that the Covid-19 alert level move from level 4 to level 5. Read the full statement.

With lockdowns already in place in Northern Ireland and Wales, England and Scotland announced new Covid-19 restrictions.

In England, restrictions come into effect today, 5 January, and are expected to last until mid-February if hospitals' situation improves. The goal is to have vaccinated everyone in the top four priority groups, including all frontline healthcare staff, by that point.

During this period, people cannot leave or be outside their home except where they have a 'reasonable excuse', which includes:

  • Work – where you cannot do your job from home

  • Essential activities – to buy things at shops or obtain services, which includes on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating

  • Medical reasons – such as medical appointments and emergencies, Covid-19 testing and vaccination etc. 

Where you must work in other people's homes, you can do so. (Read the full guidance for England)

In Scotland, the First Minister has announced that there will be a legal requirement to stay at home from today except for essential purposes. These new restrictions will remain in place until the end of January. Examples of essential purposes have been published and include

  • Healthcare

  • Essential services

  • Essential retail

They include primary eye care and community audiology services, which are permitted to remain open. (Read more)