Unions warn of ‘winter of chaos’ if action not taken to curb Covid case rise

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Union chiefs urge return to mandatory mask wearing (AFP/Getty)
Union chiefs urge return to mandatory mask wearing (AFP/Getty)

Union leaders representing millions of frontline workers have warned the government risks “another winter of chaos” if it does not take action to curb the rise in Covid cases, including a return to mandatory mask wearing in shops and on public transport.

In a joint statement, unions including the TUC, Unison, Unite and the GMB said Britain “cannot afford a laissez-faire approach” to handling the pandemic, the union leaders said as Boris Johnson insisted there was “nothing to indicate” another winter lockdown would be needed.

“With hundreds of Covid outbreaks at workplaces being reported to health authorities each week, events feel ominously reminiscent of last winter,“ the union leaders said.

They said frontline services were already under ”immense strain“ and ”dithering and delaying would only make the situation worse“

“We all want to beat Covid once for all and to avoid further lockdowns. But without decisive action now we risk sleepwalking into another winter of chaos,” theysaid.

Signatories to the statement, including TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, said they were “deeply alarmed” by rising infection rates and hospital admissions.

Nearly one million people in England had Covid-19 last week, according to an official estimate. The figure equates to around one in 55 people being infected, a level not seen since January.

Daily cases topped 50,000 on Thursday for the first time since July and average daily hospital admissions in England for people with Covid-19 this week rose to their highest level for nearly eight months.

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The plea from unions follows several calls for the government to reintroduce measures. Ministers have defended not implementing the “plan B” measures to prevent the NHS being further overwhelmed, arguing that Covid death rates are still low.

The prime minister said his winter plan had always expected cases to rise around now and that the “high levels of infections” were not higher than anticipated.

But the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) told the government to start preparing for the “rapid deployment” of “plan B” measures including working from home and mask wearing to avoid needing to introduce stricter measures later. Sage said working from home would be the most effective measure.

Local leaders and authorities have also called for measures to be brought back.

Asked about the Sage advice on Friday the prime minister said: “We keep all measures under constant review, we will do whatever we have to do to protect the public.”

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