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Sat, 4 April 2020

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Government under pressure to ban non-essential construction work during coronavirus outbreak

Government under pressure to ban non-essential construction work during coronavirus outbreak

Construction workers at the Waterside Quarter development site in Maidenhead, Berkshire, the day after Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown.

3 min read

Ministers are coming under increasing pressure to ban all non-essential construction work as part of efforts to get on top of the coronavirus outbreak.

The calls came after footage emerged of builders being forced to travel on crowded Tube trains to work on sites across London.

Boris Johnson has also clashed with London mayor Sadiq Khan and the First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have all called for building sites to shut.

However, the Government has insisted they can remain open so long as those working on them stick to social distancing guidelines and stay at least two metres apart.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that those who cannot do their jobs from home should go to work "to keep the country running".

But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is among those calling for ministers to think again.

He told BBC's Newsnight: "I think the balance is where we should delete some of those construction workers from going to work and focus only on the emergency requirements."

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, told the same programme that the Government had made its decision for economic reasons.

"When you're in the middle of a global pandemic, health reasons alone really should be guiding all decision-making," he said.

Tory MPs have also added their voices to the calls for the Government to force more workers to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

Former health minister Steve Brine said: "Either we are on lockdown or we are not. The public health emergency requires people to stay at home unless they are key workers."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that only construction work on new hospitals should be going ahead during the pandemic.

Sadiq Khan said he had been "overruled" by Boris Johnson at the latest meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee whe he said construction sites should be shut.

"The idea that construction workers can stay two metres apart during the course of a busy day, but also the idea we can’t put on hold certain construction work in light of this public health crisis, I find astonishing," he said.

But Downing Street hit back by claiming the reason Tubes were overcrowded was because Transport for London - which the mayor is responsible for - is running a reduced service during the crisis.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: "The Prime Minister raised with the mayor the issue of reduced services on the Tube and its impact on people trying to get to work.

“The Transport Secretary has also spoken to the mayor of London on this issue, where they discussed looking at ways to make sure appropriate timetabling is in place to ensure it is safe for those who need to get to work because they cannot do this from home.”

Mr Khan claimed 30% of TfL staff were off work because of the outbreak, meaning it was impossible to run more trains.

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