So much is changing in such a short time – when I wrote this, Johnson had not disclosed his own COVID-19 and a number of construction businesses had not yet disclosed that on Friday they decided to close down their activities. That said there will still be many still working and so the following is still relevant: For a large number of people we are today entering the start of the second week of a three week period to seriously reduce the number of COVID-19 cases. Last Monday evening Mr Johnson appeared on TV to make a very clear and strong call to the whole of our nation for businesses to either operate with staff working from home or to close down unless their work helps to strengthen the fight against the virus. This is a very clear attempt to dramatically reduce the peak that is anticipated by the Government and its advisers. The challenge on both personal and corporate levels to suspend work can be huge, and yet it was adopted very quickly by a significant number of organisations and people who agreed to respond to the call in a very efficient manner. Some other businesses and agencies took a few days longer due to their needs to close down procedures which would impact their contracts or their clients. One of the very clear difficulties as we start to go through week two and prepare for week three which is at the beginning of the Easter period is that whereas the call from Johnson was very clear that some parts of his Government which have promoted #stayathome, #stayhomesaveslives and #protecttheNHS have also been making statements which in reality oppose this concept in several ways. We clearly need the Government to amend their approach to these matters and thereby reinforce the call from the Prime Minister or else there is a very clear risk that the peak will still take place. If that does occur the businesses which have responded in a responsible way will then be left very frustrated or even faced with a much longer period of the same sort of approach that they have adopted at a very high commercial cost.
The nature of the stay at home call to our nation was demonstrated when Sports Direct contacted its staff following the public request by Johnson, telling them to remain open for business. A very quick response came back from the Government, blocking their plan to do so. However one has to compare that approach to statements made subsequently by Ministers such as Nadhim Zahawi (Minister for Business and Industry) and Robert Jenrick (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government). Both of these men have been making it very clear that some industries and some types of work are in their view and indeed in the view of the Government entirely legitimate, even though many elements of the building and construction industry create a vast number of examples of less than 2m distancing during travel to work journeys and food breaks. As Zahawi stated on twitter “For sectors like #Construction and #manufacturing, its not always possible for employees to work from home”. The reality is that these two men along with the Cabinet Office are failing to differentiate between work that is extremely vital such as the manufacturing of items for the treatment or protection of COVID-19 patients or their carers and the construction of urgent hospital extensions and the work that is clearly not at all vital such as the construction of train lines and the manufacture of items that will be stocked up for retailers that are currently closed down. If these differences are ignored, there is a risk that other businesses will return to work long before the three weeks are over, or the widespread criticism previously directed at businesses such as Sports Direct will be made much more intense towards the building and manufacturing businesses that have ignored the stay at home appeal, despite their non-critical work.
Clearly if the Government can review its approach on these matters the stay at home and saving lives opportunities will be strengthened, however even before this has happened the most popular of the three hashtag campaigns has presented itself across the whole of the nation in the last few days. Certainly throughout Sussex there was a very evident clapping of hands and in my road even the setting off of a few fireworks to thank NHS workers for all that they are doing to save our nation. Clearly this clapping needs to be continued but perhaps it also should be extended to other people who are working very hard to help all of us. The Police are currently working hard to remind people to stay at home for most purposes and the social services and they are needing to protect families and residents who are experiencing problems inside their homes, now that they are more home based. The work of the Fire and Rescue is taking place in much closer settings than social distancing and many charities and other agencies have extended their work a long way in the last few days.