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RAIL union TSSA warned today that the Tory government’s mixed messages on Covid-19 safety are deeply irresponsible and could prove deadly.
From his Covid-19 isolation on England’s “freedom day” – dubbed “disaster day” by the union – PM Boris Johnson defended scrapping measures but admitted that deaths and hospitalisations were “sadly rising.”
The end of legal restrictions at midnight allowed nightclubs to open and mandatory social distancing to end, while the requirement to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces was replaced with guidance that simply recommends their use.
Face coverings are now no longer legally required on buses and trains but they remain a condition of carriage on Transport for London (TfL) services, with similar moves in other parts of the country forming a patchwork of measures for passengers to follow.
The TSSA said that dropping legal requirements would endanger staff, who it said will continue to wear face coverings, maintain social distancing, and use protections such as screens, with heightened cleaning regimes still in place.
General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We are in the throes of another spike of coronavirus, so everyone should continue to follow the modest safety measures of wearing face coverings, social distancing and hand washing.
“In the rail industry we have secured a joint approach to risk assessing any changes to control measures and we will continue to put our members’ safety first.
“Sadly, the mixed messages from this government are putting people at risk. … We are in precarious times.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer blasted the PM’s reckless approach and called for the wearing of face masks to remain a legal requirement.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that talk of “freedom day” was not sensible given the UK is recording about 50,000 new Covid-19 cases per day.
The criticism came as Tory Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi admitted that the PM shouldn’t have considered using a self-isolation opt-out scheme at the weekend.
After coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday, Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak initially said they would avoid quarantine by taking part in a workplace pilot scheme.
Under the scheme, contacts of positive cases can continue to attend workplaces while taking daily rapid lateral flow tests.
They were forced into a hasty reversal on Sunday amid widespread public anger at their special treatment while tens of thousands of people were being forced to miss work or school and stay at home.
Mr Zahawi conceded the government “doesn’t get every decision right” and that PM had eventually realised using the scheme “would be wrong.”
The TSSA said that “the arrogance of the Prime Minister and Chancellor in their attempt to dodge isolation exposes their sense of entitlement and hypocrisy while also undermining the efforts to restrict transmission of coronavirus.”
Questions remain about the exact nature of the scheme, which ministers claimed was also open to 20 public and private-sector organisations including Network Rail, TfL and Heathrow Airport.
But TfL said it was not yet taking part in the pilot as it was still waiting for final confirmation from ministers.
Transport union RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch said the government’s claim that TfL was on board with the pilot was ”totally untrue.”
“The government has once again demonstrated its incompetence with the wholly bogus statements it has made today,” he said.
“The consequences of those actions will be serious.”
Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt
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