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Make workplaces and transport Covid-safe or risk tidal wave of infections, closures and chaos, unions warn

THE Covid-19 free-for-all set to be unleashed by ministers on Monday will have a disastrous effect on England’s economy as well as on people’s health, unions have warned.

Failure to toughen up back-to-work guidelines will see transport, factories and shops stretched beyond breaking point as workers will be forced to isolate under a tide of Covid-19 infections, the TUC said today.

The trade union body demanded that face masks remain compulsory on public transport and in shops, and warned that the disease would spread even more quickly if workers could not afford to isolate when instructed to.

General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government urgently needs to toughen its confusing and inadequate back-to-work safety guidance, starting with making masks a legal requirement on public transport and in shops.

“And if we are to stop Covid-19 ripping through workplaces, workers must be able to afford to self-isolate.

“Ministers must urgently raise sick pay to the level of the real living wage and make sure everyone can get it.”

Transport union RMT also warned that the ending of legal safeguards would see a further surge in workers needing to isolate.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “The government’s botched handling of their so-called ‘Freedom Day’ on Monday will see hundreds of thousands of passengers unleashed on rail, Tube and buses without masks or other basic Covid measures.

“It’s inevitable that the absurd situation will see a massive surge in both transport staff and passengers ‎being pinged for isolation with dire consequences for the transport network and the wider economy.

“Many rail, Tube and bus services are already seriously short-staffed and it doesn’t take a genius to work out the chaotic impact of the government’s failures.

“Even at this late stage, the government, the train operators and the bus companies should issue a clear, legally backed instruction that levels up the rest of the UK up to the safety standards that will remain in force in Wales and Scotland.”

The National Education Union argued that Covid-19 cases among schoolchildren were already at higher levels than the autumn-term peaks.

“[Education Secretary] Gavin Williamson has remained silent over these increasing outbreaks and increasing cases ever since he abandoned the mask-wearing mandate in mid-May,” joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said.

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