Leader's column: 'Clarity needed on lifting lockdown'

In her latest column, Tameside Council's Executive Leader, Cllr Brenda Warrington, says she supports some elements of the government's approach to lifting lockdown but believes more clarity is needed.

Ask anybody familiar with crisis management what the most important factor is in developing clear and effective responses and their reply will probably be ‘clarity’. 

I fear that, as we enter the next stage of the coronavirus pandemic, the lack of clarity we’re seeing at the moment could end up being very costly indeed.

Like many of you, I’ve been closely following the statements from the Prime Minister and government about their plans to ease the current lockdown. 

There are some parts of the new approach that I support. Allowing unlimited outdoor exercise is a targeted and sensible measure, and I’m also pleased that the government has chosen to maintain the furloughing scheme until the end of October.

However, the Prime Minister has also said: “Those who cannot work from home should speak to their employer about returning to work.” On this, I believe that he has got it massively, and potentially catastrophically, wrong.

First of all, it confuses much of the guidance around social distancing, as by the letter of the return to work guidelines putting large groups together in an office or building site will now be allowed. 

At present, around 4,000 people a day nationwide are still being diagnosed with coronavirus. Research also suggests that the course of the virus’ spread across Britain may be up to two weeks behind London, making much of the country more vulnerable to a spike in infections.

But it’s not just that reopening workplaces exposes more people to coronavirus, it’s that some will be more exposed than others. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the only people we’ve asked to work are NHS and key workers, those whose jobs are essential to fighting coronavirus and keeping our society running. 

We’re now asking people who aren’t key workers to return to their jobs, and I wouldn’t blame them for asking why they should be put at increased risk because they don’t have the luxury of being able to work from home.

This lockdown has been a challenge for all of us, but public health must always come before economic calculations. 

If the government insists on reopening workplaces, they must offer funding to make them coronavirus safe, and ensure any decisions are made with the safety of employees first and foremost on their minds. Anything less carries the risk of setting us down the road to a second wave of this terrible virus.

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