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COVID JN.1 variant: RCN seeks assurance on new PPE advice

21 Dec 2023

We’ve contacted chief nursing officers in all 4 UK countries and the UKHSA to find out what action will be taken in response to WHO’s statement on a new COVID-19 variant of interest.

Protective equipment including gloves, a mask and goggles

The RCN is asking for a revision to current guidelines, to introduce universal implementation of the 2 measures advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) to help protect health care staff against COVID-19. 
Earlier this week, in light of the new COVID JN.1 variant, WHO advised health care workers and health facilities to: 

  • implement universal masking in health facilities, as well as appropriate masking, respirators and other personal protective equipment for health workers caring for suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients 

  • improve ventilation in health facilities.  

The existing national infection prevention and control manuals don’t require standardised masking for COVID-19, and decisions on respiratory protective equipment are left to local risk assessments. This is now inconsistent with WHO’s latest advice. 

We also have concerns about the adequacy of ventilation in general ward and outpatient areas within hospital buildings and believe that action must be taken to assess and improve this.
Although evidence suggests that the global public health risks from the new variant are low, WHO has warned that onset of winter could increase the burden of respiratory infections in the Northern hemisphere. This comes when there are already unsustainable pressures on the health service.  

Figures show that there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations, and the RCN argues that without proper protections, ill health could continue to rise in nursing staff and impact their ability to deliver safe and effective patient care. 

WHO has advised that it is continuously monitoring the evidence and will update the JN.1 risk evaluation as needed. 

The RCN is urging health care employers to assess the risk posed by COVID-19 and put appropriate safeguards in place for patients and staff.

Our COVID-19 workplace risk assessment toolkit aims to help assess and manage the risks associated with respiratory infections such as COVID-19, highlights the duties of nursing staff in specific roles (such as health and safety reps), has advice for employers and leaders, and provides the latest information on risk assessment.  


Page last updated - 20/05/2024