Sat, 2 December 2023

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Coronavirus: Britain to hold minute’s silence for key workers amid fresh calls to ramp up PPE supply

Ministers have been under pressure over problems getting vital protective equipment to the frontline.

3 min read

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer will be among those taking part in a minute’s silence on Tuesday for key workers who have died with the coronavirus.

The Prime Minister and Labour leader will both observe the 11am tribute, which follows the deaths of more than 100 NHS and care staff, as well as other essential workers, as the country responds to the pandemic.

Number 10 said on Monday all government employees would be asked to take part in the nationwide pause, with the PM’s spokesperson saying they “hope that others will take part nationwide as well”.

The moment of remembrance comes amid continued pressure on the Government to ensure those on the frontline are provided with the right personal protective equipment (PPE).

Research published this week by the Royal College of Physicians found that more than a quarter (27%) of medical doctors surveyed could not get the kit they needed to stay safe while treating coronavirus patients - up from 22% in the RCP’s first April survey. 

The Times reports that PPE supplies dominated Mr Johnson’s first Covid-19 meeting after returning to the job following his own battle with the illness.

One adviser told the paper: “He was asking very detailed questions.”

In a video message to mark the minute's silence, which takes place on International Workers’ Memorial Day, Sir Keir meanwhile said the country must “continue to fight for those on the frontline to protect their lives”.

“Nobody should put their lives at risk because they haven't got the right protective equipment,” the Labour leader said.

“We owe it to them to make sure they've got the right equipment, in the right place, at the right time and we will continue to press on that.

“And we go out every Thursday to clap our key workers, to those that are taking that risk to their lives. But we can't go out and clap on a Thursday, and pretend that when this is over we can return to business as usual.”

NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said the memorial would show health service staff that their "contribution is remembered and appreciated".

And chief nursing officer Ruth May said: "Every death is a tragedy but we feel the loss of fellow health and care workers particularly keenly."

But TUC secretary Frances O’Grady continued to call for a public inquiry into shortages of PPE.

She said: "We remember those who have died and recommit to fight for the living. Every worker should be safe at work – during this pandemic, and always. 

“The lack of protective equipment for frontline workers during this crisis is a grotesque failure by ministers. We demand a public inquiry into why government allowed workers to keep working without the right equipment to keep them safe.”

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