Non-essential workers have spoken of their fears they may be contracting and spreading coronavirus because their employers are forcing them to travel into work despite the UK lockdown.
Estate agents, warehouse staff and office workers have told Metro.co.uk they have been told to continue commuting on packed Tube trains less than 24 hours after Boris Johnson ordered Britons to stay at home unless ‘absolutely necessary’.
Construction workers have already rallied against the government’s ‘ambiguous’ messages over whether or not they should be coming into work. Many are scared of catching the deadly virus and taking it back to their families but fear losing their jobs if they don’t show up to work.
In an address to the nation, the Prime Minister declared a three week UK-wide lockdown with only a limited number of circumstances that people are allowed to go outside for.
Despite enforcing social distancing by law, including making sure people keep a distance of two metres, parts of the London Underground were packed to the rafters this morning.
Metro.co.uk has been overwhelmed with messages from employees across a range of sectors who are terrified they are breaking lockdown rules and adding to the spread of the virus.
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An estate agent, who wishes to remain anonymous, said their employer Dexters – which operates 70 offices across London – asked staff to come to work today despite the prime minister’s announcement last night.
‘Although they claim to be “closed to the public” their staff are being forced to travel around London to go and sit in offices for what is a non essential job,’ the agent said.
‘They have emailed around staff saying they believe estate agents should be on the list of places which can remain open and if anyone is unhappy about it that is due to a “lack of understanding”.’
Metro.co.uk has seen internal emails sent to staff from Dexters CEO Jeff Doble, including one which tells staff ‘while staying at home is the general advice, we join a significant number of the working population who are providing important services’.
The estate agent said staff were told they can work from home ‘where possible’ but others will have to ‘juggle home and travel arrangements, health and distancing issues on top of working’.
Mr Doble told Metro.co.uk that around 50% of Dexters employees were not in work today and that they are quickly ‘winding down’ operations based on last night’s advice.
He added that his comments regarding a ‘lack of understanding’ were aimed at ‘outsiders’ who may not realise the work being conducted by estate agents amid the coronavirus crisis.
Anyone who feels unsafe taking the Tube to work has ‘the option of temporary leave’ he added.
He said: ‘We have around 60,000 tenants who are worried about their rent and where they’re living. We also have a huge number of staff working on the frontline – with around 5,000 people due to move house in the next few weeks.
‘That stuff can’t be done from home. We have seen a huge influx of work in recent days and we really need competent workers – not people doing a bit of work here and there at home.’
Distancing measures are in place in Dexters offices and around a third of all shops will close tonight, while viewings are no longer being conducted, Mr Doble said.
Dozens of other workers have contacted Metro.co.uk saying they’ve also been told to come into work as usual, despite government ministers pleading with people to stay at home.
In the West Midlands, an employee at a manufacturing company claims he was told that if workers are unable to come in they may be ‘forced to take annual leave over the coming weeks’.
A worker based in Cheshire said he was told after the prime minister’s speech that his office would be shut for three weeks. This morning a new message was sent around that it was ‘business as usual’.
Another employee working for a mortgage lender in Surrey claims the only provision that has been made to protect staff is splitting a team of 35 people between two floors and asking them not to go outside on lunch breaks.
A warehouse worker in Southampton told Metro.co.uk he is worried about bringing the virus home to his pregnant wife. He said: ‘In terms of information we are getting none.
‘I messaged my boss and he said we are essential workers when we are clearly not.
‘We are more a danger of spreading the virus, instead of helping the situation.’
Today, health secretary Matt Hancock took a grilling from MPs over the unclear guidance on exactly who should be going to work and who should be staying at home.
Mr Hancock urged people to stay inside to reduce the number of people in the UK who will die from Covid-19 – and that the measures introduced by the PM were not advice but rules that must be followed.
He said people should only be leaving their home for four reasons – shopping for essentials such as food and medicine, one form of exercise per day, medical need or to provide care to a vulnerable person, and travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
The health secretary did not clarify further, meaning some workers who are not listed as ‘key workers’ will still be commuting.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan earlier pleaded for this to be clarified and said: ‘I cannot say this more strongly: we must stop all non-essential use of public transport now. Ignoring these rules means more lives lost.’
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