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England’s Covid-19 guidelines a dangerous shambles, say unions

Calls grow for masks to remain compulsory

THE government’s back-to-work coronavirus guidelines were branded a dangerous shambles today.

Unions and employers rounded on ministers for sending out mixed messages on easing restrictions that would result in workers being exposed to greater danger and see a huge rise in Covid-19 infections.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw described the guidance, which replaces legally binding measures from Monday, as “a real mess” that would create confusion and put workers at risk.

General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “Protection for retail workers through wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing in busy public areas like shops should be backed up by the law.

“In the absence of clarity and leadership from the government, we are asking employers to think about their duty of care to staff and promote existing safety measures to the shopping public.”

Usdaw welcomed the Welsh government’s decision – like that of Scotland – to keep mask-wearing compulsory.

Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford said it was difficult for people in England to know exactly what is required of them, urging Westminster to stick to a four-nation approach.

“It is the UK government that is the outlier and if they were prepared to bring themselves into line with the decisions that have been made in Scotland and in Wales, for example, that would be clearer and simpler for everybody,” he said.

The TUC described the guidance as a “recipe for chaos and rising infections,” demanding that face coverings remain a legal requirement on public transport and in shops.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Instead of providing clear and consistent guidance on how to keep staff safe at work, the government is abandoning workers and employers.”

The PCS union told the Department for Work and Pensions that the government’s decision to remove legal safeguards was “dangerous and reckless.”

It welcomed the department’s commitment not to demand an immediate mass return to work for staff currently working from home, but said it “strongly opposed” plans to increase face-to-face activity in jobcentres while infection rates continued to rise.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick denied that Westminster’s approach had descended into a shambles.

“As a result of the vaccine rollout we are able to move into a new phase and that’s one where we all exercise our own personal judgment,” he said.

But Institute of Directors policy director Dr Roger Barker said firms were “understandably confused” by the government’s “mixed messages and patchwork requirements.”

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