‘SO WE ARE at real risk, without any coherence without any safeguards, that the infection could have a second surge,’ warned Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the Council of the British Medical Association (BMA) yesterday, heavily criticising Tory PM Johnson’s push to drive people back to work.
‘If we have another spike, we run the risk of just going backwards and creating another surge and overwhelming our health service.’
He warned: ‘If people then also travel to other parts of the country because there are no restrictions now, what we might find is infection spreading from areas of high concentration like London, into holiday areas where, at the moment, the infection is rather contained, there are huge risks with this lack of clarity.’
Nagpaul said: ‘As regards to people going back to work, for millions of workers in construction and manufacturing there is no information of how practically we will be able to ensure social distancing.
‘Many of these workers are actually working in an environment where they have to work in pairs, in construction, or in teams without a risk assessment of those who may be most vulnerable, without any clarity about how Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is necessary in those jobs.
‘And mixed messages about transport; to say “well don’t use public transport” and then expect people to have their own transport, we know that many don’t have their own transport.
‘Many workers in construction operate vans and trucks in pairs, they may transmit infection to each other, that infection could be brought home to their families.’
He continued: ‘There were more people dying on Saturday than we had at the beginning of the lockdown. So, in fact, we have also seen about another 4,000 new cases over the weekend, and that is just a fraction of the real number of new cases, so there is a considerable amount of community circulation of the virus going on.
‘And if you allow the general public to go to parks in an unlimited sense and to go outdoors, we have not heard of how the government will enforce social distancing and how it will avoid a whole neighbourhood playing in a park with footballs moving from one group to another and spreading the disease.
‘So I am really concerned that there is no clarity.’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: ‘Every worker has a statutory right to work in a safe environment, and if any of our members are effectively unsure of that then we are saying that they should not be pressured into going back to work and should refuse to do so. And if they do so we will obviously defend them.’
He added: ‘I just wish we had cooperated and been involved with talks with the government since this began, and I just wish that the Prime Minister and the government had spoken to us more about this fifty-page document. We could have given advice, we could have directed them towards our health and safety reps, we could have looked at the good practice that exists outside of that.
‘I was on a call last night with business leaders, with the Prime Minister and he never mentioned trade unions once, so I hope that is not an indication of him slipping backwards.
‘We need a cooperative approach to get us out of this crisis, but not only that, we also then need a tripartite forum to recover the economy. If we don’t do that then we will be in more serious trouble, indeed.’
PM Johnson said in Parliament yesterday: ‘We will increase the fines for the small minority who break the rules starting at £100, but doubling with each infringement up to £3,600.’
He added: ‘Anyone who cannot work from home should be actively encouraged to go to work in sectors which are allowed to be open, but should be subject to social distancing, these include food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics distribution, scientific research.’
He went on: ‘So from Wednesday there will be no limits on the frequency of outdoor exercise people can take, you can sit and rest in parks, you can play sports and exercise.
‘We shall continue to ask those who are clinically vulnerable including pregnant women and people who are over 70 or those people with chronic conditions to take particular care to minimise contact with those outside their house and we must continue to shield people who are extremely vulnerable, they should remain at home and avoid any direct contact with others.’
Labour leader Kier Starmer asked for ‘clarity on his message’ and ‘what science it was based on’.
Johnson made a special effort to thank the Labour leader for his role and the ‘spirit in which he raised the questions’.
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