We are in the seventh week of a lockout and the government is now starting to map out a roadmap for how we can navigate this crisis now that we are past the peak of the epidemic.
Business department officials held talks with employers, unions and industry organizations on Monday as they attempted to develop a plan to get the country back to work.
Sky News a seen the seven guidance documents developed by ministers – from workplaces of hotel and restaurant workers to factory, store and office workers – that forms the basis for returning to work in the coming weeks.
Employers will need to help staff and clients maintain the distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet), and most employees will work from home. In factories and warehouses, equipment should be cleaned frequently and employers should consider staggered schedules.
Stores will have to limit the number of customers through their doors. Hotels will have to close bars and restaurants.
One obvious omission in each document concerns the instructions for using face masks and personal protective equipment. With that, it’s “advice to follow”.
This is all too vague for unions, who want much more detailed directives and have stressed to ministers and officials that they cannot join these plans unless they impose binding requirements. worker safety rather than just advice.
As a senior union official said to me, “We need to make sure workers feel safe and we want proper advice on masks and personal protective equipment. We want clear instructions for employers.
“The government is looking at this from the political point of view of the sound clips and entering a new phase. We look at it from a safe and practical point of view. “
The conversations start behind closed doors, but in the next few days, it will become a national conversation between government and the public on how to lift the lockdown and, critically, convince people to return to work and send their children back. at school.
“It will take a while,” a union figure told me.
“We have to take people on a trip to get them back to work. They are anxious and have seen tens of thousands of people die. The concern is therefore real. “
You can see how the government is preparing the ground to move the public forward.
A key tool will be a new contact search application – tested this week on the Isle of Wight – to help track the virus and prevent it from spreading to the public by alerting users when they come into contact with someone who has had symptoms of coronavirus.
Another will be the use of masks, the Prime Minister said last week that he thought face covers “would be useful” to slow the spread and give people “confidence” to return to work.
Then there is the science and the laser focus on the reproductive rate of the disease.
Johnson announced on his return to Downing Street last Monday that his priority was to keep the disease’s reproductive rate – the R0 – below one to stop the spread.
This metric will be the backbone of the government’s strategy to convince the public that the risk of being outside their home is decreasing.
The lifting of the lock will not be a linear path.
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The British government wants to take a national approach to bring us back to a “new normal” of living with the disease while waiting for an effective vaccine or treatment, but the ministers will have to bend our freedoms and restrictions to the form of the disease.
Local areas may be returned to custody if spikes in the disease occur. Everything is designed to show the public that the government is in control of the epidemic.
Lockout can’t last like this forever.
Our children have to go back to school, our businesses have to start operating again. Britain must get back to work.
But the watchword will be caution. Our streets, our trains, our tubes are not going to be as they have been for some time.