Coronavirus: Calls for better workplace social distancing guidance

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File photograph of office workersImage source, PA Media
Image caption,
Many workers are concerned guidelines are not clear enough

There are calls for employers to apply better social distancing guidelines and measures in the workplace to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham says companies are "nowhere near observing" distancing rules.

He said he had been contacted by more than 300 members of the public, highlighting concerns at 150 companies.

Mr Burnham said: "I would like to see a stronger policy on workplaces now."

Social distancing means people must stay more than 2m (6ft) apart from others.

The construction industry and supermarkets are among those struggling to adhere to the restriction while continuing to operate.

Jennie, 54, works in various supermarkets stacking shelves and says maintaining the two-metre rule is "quite difficult".

"I have had people reach across me to get items," she says,

"Some customers are quite respectful but others want to do their shopping and that's the end of it."

Jennie is considered to be in an at-risk group and worries someone could pass the virus on to her, but says: "I've got no choice but to work, I've got a mortgage to pay."

"I'm not having a moan at the supermarkets or anything but I do think the workers should be getting tested," she added.

Image source, Getty Images

The GMB union said employers needed "to shut up shop" if they could not make their workplaces safe.

General secretary Tim Roache said: "As a nation we are asking so much of so many frontline workers - in our NHS and care but also in supermarkets, distribution, utilities, and food.

"The least we can do is try to keep them and their families safe."

But some workers are taking matters into their own hands.

'I can't throw medication'

Asit Raja, 60, who has been a pharmacist in Manchester for 37 years, decided to set up a barrier in the community pharmacies where he works, using cardboard boxes to maintain distance.

However, he admits this method is proving troublesome, since he cannot throw medication at people from a distance.

Mr Raja said: "I'm trying to keep social distancing as much as possible but it just doesn't work. The maximum is going to be an arm's length away. If someone's elderly and they can't reach, you have to come close to them.

"There is a cost to having the shields in place and there is also the manpower issue - there are a limited number of companies out there who can physically visit pharmacies and install these."

He added that the virus was also having an emotional effect on colleagues.

"I was working in a pharmacy yesterday and a member of staff broke down. Same happened last week, I was working in a pharmacy, I had to make a member of staff a cup of tea because they'd broken down. They just cannot cope" said Mr Raja.

Mr Roache says too many employers are paying "lip service" to protecting their employees but actually leaving people and their communities vulnerable.

He called on the government to intervene, insisting: "We need tighter guidance on what constitutes 'essential' and enforcement measures."

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock both tested positive for the Covid-19 and began self-isolating. Concerns have been raised about who else they might have come into contact with.

Both said they had mild symptoms and would keep working from home.

Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell said politicians needed to obey their own rules after pictures from the House of Commons earlier this week showed several ministers crowded together.

"They do need to learn a lesson from this and actually obey their own rules much more strictly," he told the Today Programme. But Mr Burnham said: "It's very hard, because of the nature of that place, to keep social distances."

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