Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner calls Boris Johnson’s latest lockdown guidance ‘a mess’
Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner has criticised the lack of clarity in Prime Minister’s guidance to the nation over the next phase of the UK’s lockdown.
The Labour MP was speaking after Boris Johnson outlined a three-phase approach in a speech on Sunday night, and called the new ‘stay alert’ message “woolly”.
The government’s approach includes advising those who cannot work from home to return from tomorrow (Monday May 11), but safely, observing social distancing and avoiding public transport where possible.
There will be a phased return of schools - beginning with reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils at primary schools - from June 1, when some shops could also open, while parts of the hospitality industry and public places could reopen from July at the earliest.
But Mr Zeichner said: “What a mess. First they leaked the idea change was coming leading to people ignoring the stay at home advice over a sunny bank holiday.
“Now they’ve dropped ‘stay at home’ in favour of a woolly ‘stay alert’ message. I know precision doesn’t come easily to Boris Johnson but we are dealing with a public health crisis and we need absolute clarity from government.
“This is no time for nuance. And of course the announcement has come by televised address, not in Parliament, to avoid scrutiny from MPs. My email box is already filling up with people who are confused about what to do and scared they will be forced back to work without proper protections.
“We need a grown up conversation with parliament, scientists and the trade unions fully engaged, not meaningless sloganising from a prime minister who is out of his depth.”
Cambridge & District Trades Council backed the TUC’s calls for a radical overhaul of health and safety in the workplace before more people head back to work, and supported the National Education Union, which has suggested five tests that should be met before schools are reopened, relating to testing and a national plan for social distancing.
“The country’s tested daily death toll is in the many hundreds and known infection rate in the thousands,” said the Cambridge & District Trades Council. “These numbers would rocket significantly if parents were directed to send their children back prematurely and millions of workers sent to unsafe workplaces.
“There needs to be a much lower infection rate, a national plan for social distancing and comprehensive access to regular testing for children and staff. All employers, including schools, should also have to draw up and publish risk assessments and state what measures they have taken to make work safe for their employees.
“Both a detailed school strategy and an enforceable workplace strategy is desperately needed to keep workers and families protected.
“If the government doesn’t implement a sensible plan they risk sparking a higher second wave of infection. This would lead to a huge delay in reopening workplaces and much more crucially would lead to many more thousands of needless deaths.
“If work cannot be done safely, it shouldn’t proceed at all.
“Our prime duty during this pandemic is to protect workers, families and the vulnerable and as trade unionists to make sure short-term profit doesn’t come before people’s lives. Future plans should be based on scientific advice and negotiation at the highest level with workers representatives in the unions. There should be no going back before it’s safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, there was a more positive response to the change of emphasis from business group CBI.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general, said: “Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy. A phased and careful return to work is the only way to protect jobs and pay for future public services. The Prime Minister has set out the first steps for how this can happen.
“Businesses are keen to open and get our economy back on its feet. But they also know putting health first is the only sustainable route to economic recovery. The message of continued vigilance is right.
“This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex. It must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a roadmap, with dates they can plan for.
“Success will rest on flexibility within a framework: clear guidance which firms can adapt for their particular circumstances. Financial support will also need to evolve for sectors moving at different speeds – some remaining in hibernation, while others get ready to open safely.
“The coming weeks should see business, government and employee representatives working together as part of a national effort built on openness and trust. This is the only way to revive the UK economy and protect both lives and livelihoods.”
Mr Johnson said the government had been working on new advice for employers to make workplaces “Covid secure”.
He also encouraged workers to drive, walk or cycle, rather than use public transport.
All the steps are conditional on avoiding spikes in transmission, he indicated.