The UK government will give companies guidance within days on returning to work safely once the coronavirus lockdown is eased, as it comes under pressure from business not to withdraw its financial support too soon.
Firms will get advice on different types of workplace activity, including operating outdoors or inside someone else’s home, according to two people with knowledge of the government’s plans. The guidance will also address whether employees need to wear protective equipment and how transport should be used, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Boris Johnson has pledged a “comprehensive plan” to lift the lockdown that has crippled the British economy now the country has passed the peak of the disease.
As the prime minister eases the restrictions, he will have to tread a path between bankruptcies and mass unemployment if the lockdown lasts too long, and a second wave of the virus if curbs are lifted too soon. The next review of the Covid-19 strategy is due on May 7.
The government is reviewing whether it could relax the two-meter social distancing rule, which could allow more businesses and schools to reopen, The Daily Telegraph reported today. Ministers have asked scientific advisers whether people need to stay so far apart, the paper said. The Sun paper, meanwhile, reported that the UK could begin relaxing restrictions on May 26.
The government’s website already offers guidance for critical businesses that have remained open, such as food retailers, freight transporters and pharmaceutical firms. They have been instructed to put social-distancing measures in place and stagger workers’ shifts.
The latest advice for different workplace settings, which is being drawn up in consultation with labor unions, lobby groups and relevant employers, will be similar, the people said.
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
“It is only right that we work together with industry and unions to ensure workplaces are safe for both those in work now and for those going back to work as government measures develop,” a government spokesman said by e-mail.
With discussions turning to how the UK economy might start ramping up again, industry lobbyists are concerned the government may soon withdraw some of its unprecedented financial support for business. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has rolled out 104 billion pounds ($130 billion) of measures to keep firms afloat and prevent mass firings.
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, warned that it will take time for normal levels of consumption to resume due to social distancing and weak consumer confidence.
“If any of these schemes are simply ended with a day’s notice, you’re going to see a lot more businesses heading into insolvency,” he said. “Their cash position will simply become untenable.”
— With assistance by Donal Griffin