Boris Johnson under pressure to curb construction work amid coronavirus crisis

Boris Johnson under pressure to curb construction work amid coronavirus crisis

Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to stop non-essential construction workers heading to building sites as the country attempts to tackle the spread of coronavirus. The Prime Minister has faced calls from across the political spectrum for more stringent rules so workers are not placed at risk, and public transport is not overwhelmed.

Mr Johnson, who will appear before MPs on Wednesday for Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, has so far resisted the pressure.

It comes after the Government launched a recruitment drive for 250,000 volunteers in good health to help vulnerable people, while Matt Hancock announced that an exhibition centre in London will be converted into a new NHS hospital.

The Health Secretary said people are needed to assist with the national effort to tackle coronavirus by shopping, delivering medicines and supporting those who are shielding themselves against Covid-19.

And he confirmed that a temporary hospital - the NHS Nightingale hospital - would be opening at London's ExCeL centre, with 4,000 beds spread across two wards.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that the number of coronavirus dead in the UK had reached 422 - up from 335 the day before and the largest day-on-day increase in the number of deaths since the outbreak began. Northern Ireland later said there had been a further two deaths in the region.

In measures announced on Monday, the PM told people to only go to work if "absolutely necessary".

But on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said those who cannot work from home, including key workers in the NHS and social care, should go to work "to keep the country running".

The Health Secretary said construction workers were among those who could continue to work as long as they could remain two metres apart at all times.

But some builders and construction workers have said they feel "angry and unprotected" going to work, while others are under pressure from employers to go in.

Conservative former cabinet minister Sir Iain Duncan Smith added his voice to the calls, telling BBC Two'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, mayor of Greater Manchester, told the programme: "This decision about allowing non-essential work appears to be taken for economic reasons when actually - when you're in the middle of a global pandemic - health reasons alone really should be guiding all decision making."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan's office said the Government must act urgently to get more people staying at home following construction workers reporting to building sites and images of packed Tube trains appearing on social media.

His comments came after Mr Hancock said that the London Underground should be running in full so that people are spaced out and can be further apart.

The Government is also under intense pressure to set out a financial support package for self-employed workers - measures senior Conservative MP Sir Iain said were soon to be announced.

"I believe the Government has reached a conclusion about that, the best way to do it is to look back over the average for the year but that does leave out some who haven't been self-employed for over a year," he told Newsnight.

Elsewhere, Mr Hancock said 11,788 recently retired NHS staff had responded to the call to return to the service, including 2,660 doctors, more than 2,500 pharmacists and other staff and 6,147 nurses.

"I pay tribute to each and every one of those who is returning to the NHS at its hour of need," Mr Hancock said.

Some 5,500 final-year medics and 18,700 final-year student nurses will also "move to the front line" next week.

In other developments:

- The FTSE 100 index of leading companies jumped 9% on Tuesday - its second biggest ever percentage rise and its highest ever points gain.

- The organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, due to begin at the end of July, agreed to postpone the event for a year.

- For the first time, all the UK's mobile networks are sending out a Government message to customers with details of the new shutdown.

- Chancellor Rishi Sunak acknowledged it would not be possible to protect every job and save every business, but said the Government was "looking at pace at what support" can be given to the self-employed.

- A British patient became the first person to die with Covid-19 in Cape Verde

- Five hundred British Transport Police officers were due on the rail network to remind passengers that only those making essential journeys for work should be using the Tube and trains.

Mr Hancock also responded to criticisms about a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline staff, saying 7.5 million pieces of PPE including facemasks had been shipped out in the last 24 hours.

A hotline enables NHS and care staff to request PPE if they do not have it, he added.

"If people are working on the front line to look after us, it's vital that we look after them," he said.

Published: by Radio NewsHub
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