Some NI producers ‘flouting’ social distancing guidelines

Some food producers are “flouting” new guidelines on social distancing and not providing personal protective equipment, a union claimed.

Unite said workers across Northern Ireland had been left “hugely confused” by the Prime Minister’s Covid-19 restrictions.

Food manufacturing has been under unprecedented pressure as supermarkets are stripped of product.

Industry representative group Manufacturing NI has said factories choosing to keep going should “directly or indirectly support life-sustaining and necessary parts of the economy”.

Susan Fitzgerald, regional coordinating officer for Unite, said: “Across the front-line production sector – in particular in food – workers are reporting widespread management flouting of guidelines on social distancing and the lack of personal protection equipment.

“In some cases when workers go into self-isolation with symptoms or even test positive for coronavirus, bosses are refusing to shut down their working area or conduct a deep-cleanse, and expect their colleagues to continue in work instead of self-isolating.

“Indeed, some workers have informed Unite that employers have written to their workers to tell them they cannot be held liable if they contract coronavirus at work.”

Manufacturers have had to react quickly over recent days as the virus’ spread has intensified.

Coronavirus
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people must remain at home except for shopping for basic necessities, exercise, any medical need and travelling to and from essential work (Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA)

On Monday, Boris Johnson said people must remain at home except for shopping for basic necessities, exercise, any medical need and travelling to and from essential work.

Shops selling non-essential items were told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are banned.

Manufacturing NI said: “To help understand if businesses should stay open, we are asking to ask themselves:

“Does what you do (or some part/people within your business) directly or indirectly support life-sustaining and necessary parts of the economy and our public services? If the answer is yes, then you could choose to keep going. If the answer is no, then the Government expect you to close.

“Can you do it safely with 100% compliance with hygiene and distancing advice? If the answer is yes, then you could choose to keep going. If the answer is no, they expect you to close.

“There is currently no list of essential services or functions available, but we are asking for this and will share when received.

“Anyone who does not need to be at your factory should be at home.”

Nurses have expressed major concerns about lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Royal College of Nursing’s Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said: “Over the weekend, there were increasing reports of a lack of PPE available to frontline staff – not just in hospitals, but in GP surgeries, care homes and community nurses visiting people in their homes.

“Our members tell us that they simply cannot obtain enough equipment – in particular, face masks that offer a higher level of respiratory protection (FFP3 masks).

“While we welcome the announcement of further stocks being distributed to health care settings, we will be closely monitoring the situation to make sure these stocks are reaching the right places, working around the clock to deal with this crisis, and deserve absolute clarity on how the Government and their workplace are protecting them from the virus, given the discrepancies between the UK and WHO infection prevention guidance.”

On Tuesday, Health Minister Robin Swann introduced legislation at the Stormont Assembly to allow rapid action to address the pandemic.

He said testing was being expanded to 1,100 per day.

Priority groups include those admitted to hospital, healthcare workers and people living in “clusters”.

The minister said: “As a result of the actions of staff, the scale-up is progressing at a rapid pace.”

He said the vast majority of commercial premises must close now.

“It is an instruction. If it is not heeded, our hospitals will be overrun and many people will die needlessly.

“If it is not heeded, we will not hesitate to enforce it.”

Coronavirus
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster has said sweeping new Covid-19 restrictions will last more than three weeks (Liam McBurney/PA).

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster has said sweeping new Covid-19 restrictions will last more than three weeks.

She said if she was a “betting person” she would think the measures will continue beyond Easter.

Mrs Foster told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme matters would need to be reviewed after three weeks.

Police will have powers to enforce the rules using fines and separating gatherings.

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