128 MPs call for “non-essential” businesses to close

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Calls are mounting for the government to provide clarity over which workplaces should close to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus.

In a letter signed by 128 cross party MPs, issued to Business Secretary Alok Sharma, it says: “Allowing non-essential workplaces to stay open is inevitably adding to the risk that many more people will be infected than necessary.”

Although some select businesses have been told to close, such as leisure facilities and high street shops, others have not. In fact they’ve been told “it’s important for businesses to carry on,” says the letter.

The MPs worry this contradicts general advice to “stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives” and that advice to practice social distancing at work is not being followed.

Call centres are among the workplaces MPs say are not managing the risks of coronavirus transmission

In reports received by constituents of the MPs, they have heard of examples such as in distribution centres, factories, call centres and construction sites, where employees are closer than the recommended two metres to their colleagues and sometimes with inadequate hand washing facilities.

Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth has also called on government to provide “absolute clear clarity over which firms are essential, which sort of work is essential and what sort of work isn’t essential.”

Speaking on BBC 1's Andrew Marr show on Sunday, he said many businesses are confused: “We’re calling for the government to be absolutely crystal clear because clarity is everything when you’re dealing with a pandemic. When you’re asking people to adjust their behaviour, you need clear messages from the government.”

The pressure comes as Spain's government announced it is halting all "non-essential" work from Monday March 30 to prevent as many Spaniards as possible from leaving their homes and risking infection.

Pedro Sánchez, the country’s prime minister, made the announcement on Saturday night after Spain registered its highest daily death toll to date - 832 people have died in the past 24 hours.

HSE has also come under renewed pressure to provide clarity over the part it is playing in the coronavirus crisis. Prospect signed an open letter to HSE last week to intervene on Covid-19 fears.

Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) has also written to HSE in a letter dated 27 March, to ask what the regulator is doing to ensure that employers are being informed on what to do to keep staff safe, and to enforce health and safety legislation where risks of coronavirus transmission are not being managed.

“We have very serious concerns regarding the safety of those workers who have simply been forced by their employers to come into work - despite the risks involved,” it says.

STUC acknowledges “the leading role for agencies such a Health Protection Scotland and Public Health England”, but says “there is a very important workplace health and safety dimension that we fear is not being adequately addressed.”

Government social distancing guidance doc here

Closing certain businesses and venues guidance here


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