You were under the impression that if you had more than two confirmed cases of coronavirus you were supposed to report it as an outbreak, but when you look at the guidance it’s not nearly so specific. What are the rules?

Developing area

COVID-19Back at the start of the pandemic in 2020 there was a requirement for outbreaks of two or more cases of coronavirus to be reported. However, we find ourselves at the beginning of 2021 with a very high prevalence of the virus in recent months, and the bar for reporting has been set higher to ensure that public services are not overwhelmed.  Another factor is that each country has its own take on its requirements.  They are similar in their approach but below details relates to England.


New guidance

Information, on the website, about early outbreak management has been created to make sure that people who run businesses or organisations: (1) know how to recognise and report an incident of coronavirus; and (2) are aware of measures local health protection teams may advise to contain it. This information is contained within “action cards” that have been designed for specific situations.  You can find more information on this by going to COVID-19 early outbreak management – GOV.UK (


Tip. Download the action card which is most relevant to your type of business and familiarise yourself with the contents.

Tip. In the event of a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus linked to your premises or activities, re-check the website for the most recent version of the action card. It is best not to rely on one that you have on file in case the advice has moved on.


What’s expected of you?

Although Public Health England has gone to some lengths to produce industry-specific action cards, they mostly say the same things.

The general principles of what to do are:

  1. Confirm if the case or cases are in fact coronavirus. Review symptoms, the testimony of those affected, and ask if personnel involved have had a positive test.
  2. Identify any close contacts of the confirmed cases in your setting. Do this by talking to the confirmed case where possible and making a list.
  3. Review your coronavirus risk assessment, considering whether your investigations have identified weaknesses in your risk control measures which need to be corrected.
  4. Consider whether you need to contact the Public Health Protection Team.


Examples of when to call for help are: 

(1) more cases are arising despite the action taken. 

(2) the premises or business may need to close due to the numbers affected. 

(3) someone in your workplace has been admitted to hospital; or 

(4) media interest has become significant. 

Some industries have an extra reporting criterion: five cases over a two-week period, but there are quite limited situations where this applies, such as public venues. Check the action card for your sector to identify if this applies to you.

Note. A “close contact” is defined on the action cards and includes those who have been close to someone now known to be suffering with coronavirus any time from two days before the person was symptomatic and up to ten days from the onset of symptoms.




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