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Why is ventilation important in the context of Covid-19?

The scientific understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and its transmission, developed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is convincing evidence that the virus is spread via airborne liquid particles and that this is more significant than other routes previously focused on, such as surface transmission. Documented cases of “super-spreader” events in confined indoor spaces have illustrated the risks associated with poor ventilation. As such, the focus on ways to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 has shifted towards improving ventilation.

Ventilation is the provision of fresh air to a room or building. It can be quantified by a ventilation rate, which is the volume of air that is provided to a room or building over a given period of time.

The risk of transmitting and inhaling virus-containing respiratory droplets can be reduced by improving ventilation and/or by using air cleaning technologies such as high efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters and germicidal UV light. While research into the effectiveness of these and other technologies is ongoing, early indicators suggest that they are of some benefit.

Government policy on ventilation

Employers have a statutory duty to ensure that workplaces are well ventilated under health and safety legislation. Guidance from the government, the Health and Safety Executive, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers and other industry and trade bodies has been published to help organisations identify and improve poor ventilation in their buildings.

The Government said it has promoted the importance of ventilation in homes and businesses through its Covid-19 behaviour change campaigns during 2020 and 2021. Government has also advised businesses to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments and follow Covid-19 secure guidance, as well as check whether ventilation systems require servicing or adjustment.

Between October 2019 and February 2020, the government held the first part of a two-stage consultation on plans to introduce a Future Homes Standard, aimed at reducing the carbon emissions of domestic properties. The consultation sought views on proposed changes to Part F (on ventilation) and Part L (on the conservation of fuel and power) of the Building Regulations 2010. Responding to the consultation in January 2021, the government said it would proceed with the inclusion of guidance on performance-based ventilation standards.

In December 2021, the government laid the Building Regulations etc. (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021. These regulations introduced a requirement that where building work is undertaken in respect of Part L (on the conservation of fuel and power), the ventilation in the building must comply with the standard set out in Part F (on ventilation), or must not be worse than the standard prior to the Part L works taking place. The regulations are due to take effect on 15 June 2022. The government also revised its guidance on ventilation, with two Approved Documents on ventilation due to take effect in June 2022.

In the second stage of its two-part consultation, the government consulted, between January and April 2021, on plans to implement a Future Buildings Standards. Responding to the consultation, the government said it would implement measures to “simplify and clarify guidance on ventilation and safeguard the health of building residents and users”. It set out an intention to mandate the installation of CO2 monitors in offices and set new standards for ventilation systems which recirculate air in offices.

Ventilation in schools

As of 6 May 2022, the Government had delivered over 386,000 carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors and 8,000 air cleaning units to state-funded education settings in England.

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