Employees of a public library in London were nervous about the arrival of this July 19, “freedom day”. With COVID-19 cases on the rise daily, they fear for their safety on a day announced in England as the great liberation due to the lifting of social distancing rules and the mandatory nature of masks.
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“I will continue to wear a mask and so will many of my colleagues; we will continue to wash and disinfect our hands and try to keep our distance, but it is difficult because a lot of people approach you directly,” says Alan Wylie, a 55-year-old librarian.
Many employers are happy to have fewer restrictions on the number of people, but these librarians and thousands of front-line workers are concerned about the swell of increased infections: the United Kingdom on Friday exceeded the threshold of 50,000 daily cases.
According to Andrew Goodacre, executive director of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), there are concerns and mixed feelings. “There is a fear that some employees will say that COVID-19 is a risk and that their employer is not doing enough to protect them.”
Goodacre believes that this lifting of restrictions will be different from the previous ones because now the cases are on the increase. It says that the BIRA association is advising stores to modify their communication to “kindly request customers to cover their faces”, but says they “cannot insist” on it due to the risk of discriminating against people with disabilities.
According to Goodacre, smaller stores could use more specific guidelines. In his opinion, the current guidelines are not taking into account the increase in cases.
Gregor Woods, a partner at the international law firm CMS, says that the legal responsibilities of employers have not changed: they remain obliged to protect their staff and carry out risk assessments. It is a “challenge,” he says, but they have a “duty of care.”
Need for clearer guidelines
Librarian Alan Wylie is considered an at-risk person due to his medical history. Although they have already given him two doses of the vaccine, he says he is still concerned and that many employees are in a similar situation.
In his opinion, the protection of personnel depends on the City Council for which they work, on the seriousness with which health and safety issues are taken and on the strength of the union branch. “Everyone can enter a public library and that is part of what makes them special, but it also means that they can become centers of community transmission,” he says.
In Petersfield, Hampshire, Shirley Leader runs a small clothing boutique called Velvet and Rose. He says that among his employees there are also vulnerable people: “Some are concerned about their personal safety; others are young and have not been vaccinated; and others have had health scares so they will put on the mask.”
For Leader, another big concern is the possibility that some of his staff members are part of the contact group of an infected person, which would force the store to close its doors. “It would be good if there were more concrete advice for small stores from the government,” he says. “There has been talk of restaurants and certain places where there may be poor ventilation, but do you have to wear a mask in small shops? If there are a lot of people inside, do you have to be careful? They have to be clear in the guidelines , instead of maintaining them in a general way “.
Translated by Francisco de Zárate