u3a - Covid-19 Advice for Interest Groups in Northern Ireland - U3A-KMS-DOC-077

1. Document Control

2. Introduction

2.1. Purpose

The Third Age Trust has put together its guidance on coronavirus as related to the movement. We continue to follow the government and NHS advice and will keep you updated with regular mailings when the advice changes.

2.2. Scope

Relevant to all u3as in Northern Ireland

2.3. Related documentation

3. Pathway out of Restrictions
 

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-pathway-out-restrictions

The Northern Ireland pathway out of restrictions was published on the 2nd March outlining their strategic priorities which include: Health and Wellbeing of Citizens; Societal and Community Wellbeing; Economic Wellbeing and Revitalisation of the Economy.

Decisions are to be based on the 4 overarching principles that are to be: Evidence-Based (vaccination programme roll out and impact), Necessary (as in restrictions will only be enforced as long as necessary), Proportionate and Sustainable i.e. avoiding the risk of re-opening only to quickly have to lockdown again.

Therefore any dates should be taken as provisional and Government Guidance should be given priority and followed on these dates:

NORTHERN IRELAND

How many people outdoors

Meeting indoors

Travel

Permitted activities

Indicative date for further easing of restrictions is 26th July to be approved on 22nd July.

Up to 15 people from no more than 5 households can meet in private gardens whilst maintaining social distancing.

This to increase to 15 people from 15 households  on 26th July.

Up to 6 people from 2 households can mix indoors in private dwellings.

This to increase to 10 people from 3 households on 26th July

Travel is permitted but you are still advised to avoid busy, crowded places. 

The wearing of face coverings is mandatory on public transport and in terminals.

All gyms, pools and indoor leisure facilities are open and group exercise and training is permitted. Covid Safe risk assessments are required if more than 15 people are participating.
General Safety guidance/rules  All outdoor sports is permitted. The maximum number will be determined by a risk assessment but activities with fewer than 30 participants are not required to do a risk assessment. However any behaviour that could encourage the risk of transmission around sports activities such as sharing cars, congretating on the sidelines or sporting clebrating should be avoided.

 The Government of Northern Ireland will be reviewing these measure next on the 22nd July.

4. FAQs
 

4.1. What is the procedure I must follow in order to resume my interest group activities face to face?

It is imperative that we follow the government guidance as we move through the steps of lockdown easing. Their aim is to be guided by the evidence at each step of the road map and we must follow their lead and recommendations at all times, remaining vigilant and flexible to their latest guidance whilst planning for the return journey for the members in our various interest groups.

To summarise the u3a procedure for resuming an activity or interest group is as follows:

  • Inform your committee of your plans and preparations for resuming
  • Where appropriate download and follow a relevant Risk Assessment from a National Governing Body for your sporting activity (see links below) or use an appropriate u3a risk assessment template for your activity.
  • Inform your members of what to expect and how to prepare for returning
  • Ask members to complete a personal assessment (pre-attendance) before attending.
  • Please ensure you are following the most current government guidance on social distancing, and maintaining Covid-secure requirements at all times. For instance, you may be required to continue to keep a register of participants for 21 days after the activity for Track and Trace beyond the roadmap.

4.2. What do we do if a member is not having the vaccine for health or personal reasons?

At present, there is no mandate from the Government that people must have the vaccine therefore the Trust will not be issuing any requirements that members must have the vaccine or that they can’t take part in activities without having had their vaccines.

4.3. When can we restart our walking groups

The NI government roadmap for lifting lockdown means up to 30 people currently in NI can meet for outdoor organised activity. You must follow the u3a procedure for resuming activities as outlined above a 4.1 and we advise you to use the Ramblers Risk Assessment.

4.5. Where can I get information about return to play from National Governing Bodies of sports organisations

This link will take you to a list of some of these bodies in NI https://www.irishsport.ie/ngbs/

5. Advice on participation in u3a Activities and Covid 19 tests

5.1 Many u3as are beginning to start some face to face activity within the guidelines in their nation. Some members of u3as remain concerned about the pandemic while some venues used by u3as  have now introduced additional requirements for usage. The Trust has taken advice on what u3as may do.

The starting point for all advice to u3as is that at all times you must follow the advice given in your nation. In addition you must ensure that a risk assessment is undertaken before commencing any u3a group activity and you should share this with your committee. Additionally, all members should be encouraged to undertake their personal risk assessments to inform their decision of whether to participate. Note the personal risk assessment is for your own benefit and does not need to be shared with anyone else.

There are some queries regarding additional measures that go beyond the relevant government advice. These are laid out below. Each u3a must make its own decision whether it wishes to require any additional measures or use a facility that requires additional measures over and above the relevant government advice. If a u3a decides to impose additional measures the committee should note the measures in a committee meeting, giving a full explanation for them, and detailing how they relate to the risk assessment that has resulted in imposing them.

5.2 Can a venue impose a requirement that all participants using the venue have a clear Covid test before using the facilities?

Yes the venue can undertake a health and safety risk assessment and introduce measures that they feel will reduce the risk of transmission of Covid and include this as a requirement.

5.3 Can a u3a lawfully run the event without contravening our constitutions or any equality legislation in a venue that imposes such restrictions?"

Yes it is possible to use that venue. The reason is that the policy of requiring participants to provide a clear Covid test within 48 hours of attending the event is unlikely to constitute indirect discrimination or disability discrimination. The owner/operator is entitled to put in place reasonably practicable controls and measures to minimise the risk of transmission of coronavirus, even if these are more onerous than the requirements specified by HM Government or the Health and Safety Executive, so long as they amount to proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, the aim in this case being to protect against Covid-19.

 The policy is a general one, rather than targeted, and most, if not all, delegates should be capable of taking a test. Whilst the policy is clearly a robust control measure, it is unlikely to be seen as disproportionate given the significant risks posed by coronavirus or discriminatory and therefore unlawful. The position would be different if the owner/operator of the venue only permitted participants who had been vaccinated. This would not comply with equality of access.

5.4 Would we have to require the participants to provide the venue with their details of a Covid free test directly?

The answer is yes given that u3as are not authorised to process or store personal sensitive data. The trustee / u3a committee member who is arranging the event or use of the space should speak to the venue owner/operator to understand the procedures in place to be able to advise participants what they have to do.

5.5 If a u3a required covid clear testing proof prior to getting on a coach, or attending an interest group in a home or in hall, (in other words the request was from one of  our charities rather than the venue or the coach provider) would the u3a charity be entitled to impose this restrictions under the same H&S and equality legislation?

Yes a u3a could do this.

5.6 If they are entitled would they be allowed to show evidence of a clear test to the group leader (eg like showing a passport at customs control)  on the basis it would only be shown and not collected or stored on any data base?

Yes a u3a could do this.

5.7 Can a u3a impose a requirement that all participants attending an interest group MUST have either a clear Covid test OR proof of both vaccinations before participating?

The u3a must in any event follow all government guidance on covid such as social distancing.

And they must follow the normal risk assessments when considering the health and safety of an event.

However if they decide, in addition,  to introduce a rule that required each u3a member to show on entry to an activity that they had either  proof of vaccination or a clear covid test on the basis they wished to minimise the possibility of transmission infection in this age group mainly 70 plus then this is advised to be acceptable under equality legislation as long as the rule applies to all members.

5.8 Can it also apply to outdoor activity?

A u3a must still go through the same process, follow the relevant government guidance and undertake a risk assessment.

If under the outdoor activity risk assessment they still feel this is important to minimise the risk transmission and have noted that this is a risk in the operation of that interest group, then they may adopt the same approach. This would require a rule that required each u3a member to show on entry to an activity that they had either  proof of vaccination or a clear covid test on the basis they wished to minimise the possibility of transmission infection in this age group mainly 70 plus This is advised to be acceptable under equality legislation as long as the rule applies to all members.