Stagger shifts and don’t share pens, UK to tell businesses

LONDON • Companies looking to resume operations after the UK lockdown is relaxed are set to be told to stagger shifts, enforce social distancing with tape on floors, and avoid sharing pens, people familiar with the matter said.

The government has written seven draft guidance papers covering different business environments to help people working in outdoor jobs, factories and in vehicles, among other scenarios.

The guidance is designed to help get swathes of the economy shuttered by the pandemic to operate again once ministers ease restrictions requiring people to stay mainly at home. While the three-week extension to the initial lockdown is due to be reviewed on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not expected to unveil a “road map” for how the country will start to return to normal until Sunday, an official said.

The proposals for businesses resuming operations include installing plastic screens in shops between customers and the cash register, advice to curtail hot-desking, and enforcing strict standards of hygiene, according to three people who spoke on condition of anonymity discussing unpublished documents.

Speaking to the BBC yesterday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace cited measures taken by supermarkets, including plastic shields at checkout counters, to explain how businesses could continue maintain social distancing after they return to work. “There’s a range of methods to do that,” he said.

“The Business secretary continues to work with businesses, union leaders and the science and medical community so we can ensure workplaces are safe for those who will go

back to work once the measures are relaxed and give people the confidence to return to work,” the Business Department said in an emailed statement.

Under the back-to-work guidance, employers will also be required to produce a Covid-19 risk assessment. Two of the people said there’s some concern among employers about whether they will have liability.

The guidance was circulated among unions and industry chiefs, who were given 12 hours to submit feedback on Sunday so they can be finalised in the days ahead. Details of the guidance were first reported in the Financial Times.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that if the lockdown — which began on March 23 — lasts for three months, the UK economy will shrink by more than a third this quarter.

As well as work outdoors, in vehicles and in factories, the papers covered shops, the leisure industry, indoor working and jobs with a customer focus, including going into people’s homes. The documents included photos of factory floors and an elevator with floor tape dividing it into four squares to illustrate how social distancing can be enforced.

One area not covered in detail is the use of personal protective equipment such as face masks and gloves, for which there’s only a placeholder in the documents. While Johnson last week hinted people may be advised to use face masks, ministers have also been clear they won’t bring in any policies that threaten to divert vital supplies away from the health service.

Other issues under discussion including measures to facilitate the return to work, such as access to schools and childcare, and how many trains and buses are running.

“Obviously we’ll expand the number of trains and buses running,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC on Sunday. “The second thing to say is active travel, I think, is a very important part of this, by which I mean cycling, walking and so on.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson last week said schools in England will open to children in a “phased manner”. — Bloomberg