COVID-19: Health Secretary Matt Hancock reiterates PM’s advice to ‘stay at home’

Please Note: All information correct at time of writing on 24 March 2020. We do our very best to make sure our information is as up to date as possible, but we’d encourage you to check out our latest articles and to check the government website for updates as they happen.

This afternoon (Tuesday 24 March) the government’s daily press briefing update was led by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who was joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries. Notably, today’s briefing was held remotely, with members of the press using video technology to dial in and pitch questions after the official announcement.

Key points covered in today’s conference were as follows:

– to shop for food

– for medical reasons

– for exercise

– for work

The acceptable reasons also include caring and volunteering.

  • Today the government is launching NHS Volunteers (which ties in with the new volunteer leave rights in the Coronavirus Bill – we’ll be sending out a further update this week as the bill is currently going through parliament).
  • The government are seeking 250,000 volunteers, people in good health to help the NHS with shopping, delivery of medicines and support to those who are shielded (the medically advised period of 12 weeks’ self-isolation for those prone to complications from infection because of underlying health conditions).
  • The NHS Volunteer Responders Scheme will ensure the NHS and local services get all the support they need.
  • Over 11,000 who have left the NHS have answered the government’s plea for former NHS workers to return and next week final year medics and final year student nurses will join them (swelling NHS numbers by around 35,000 people in total).
  • The government are opening a new hospital (the NHS Nightingale hospital) at the ExCel Centre in London.

The remote Q&A session held after the official announcement raised a number of interesting points.

Matt Hancock quizzed on employees attending work

Hancock was quizzed on people being told to attend work when they themselves did not consider their work to be essential at this time and they did not feel they could stay more than 2 metres apart from colleagues.

He was asked who should they listen to, the government or their employer?

He answered the first point by saying the advice was “crystal clear” – that you should stay at home unless you have one of the four reasons for leaving home, including going to work where that work can’t be done at home.

So far so good (and that is what we have been advising). However, he then went on to add, “if you are a key worker, for instance if you work in the NHS or social care, then you should go to work because that work is vital”. He then passed the question on to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

It is worth reflecting on this answer. On a normal reading of it, he seemed to be saying that you should go to work if you are a key worker but if you are not, although you would not be breaking government restrictions by attending work, going to work is optional.

The Deputy Chief Medical Officer said that many employees did not have to be at work, and they were encouraging employers to be innovative in terms of how their employees could work from home. If they do need to be in the office, spread people around on a common-sense basis. She later added that if employees did not feel safe in their workplace, they should raise it with their employer “very firmly”. However, no guidance whatsoever as to what should happen at that point.

Hancock was asked another question of why was the government so adamant that non-key workers should continue to go to work. He replied the reason they had taken this stance was that in work, the 2-metre distancing rule could be applied. He said that employers have a duty to ensure that employees are more than 2 metres apart.

Confusion around construction

The subject of construction workers being able to continue working came up, a subject which has occupied much media discussion throughout the day. He was asked why construction workers are able to continue working despite the fact that in Scotland the First Minister had said building work should stop immediately. Hancock said there was no reason why building work should stop as long as people were 2 metres apart.

Citation’s advice remains as follows:

  • Wherever possible, employees should work from home
  • Where this is not possible, employees are able to leave home to go to work
  • If employees are worried about their safety in work, they can raise this with their employer. In that case, the employer should carry out a risk assessment
  • The new element seems to be that the government is now saying that there is a positive duty on employers to ensure that employees are at least 2 metres apart from their colleagues. If this is not possible, the risks will have to be assessed carefully. If you’re a Citation client, you can contact our Health & Safety team on 0345 844 4848 to get advice on risk assessments where it’s not practical to keep workers more than 2 metres apart.

Keeping you updated with coronavirus measures, daily

The impact of COVID-19 on business owners has been unprecedented. With daily briefings and different measures being introduced on a daily basis, it’s a dizzying time for everyone.

Citation’s Employment Law and Health & Safety experts are here to track the progress of these measures and to translate them into real terms for your business. Keep an eye on our latest articles and free guides, as well as our social media channels for all the latest updates.

If you’re a Citation client, remember you can call our advice line any time on 0345 844 4848.

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