UNISON, the UK’s largest union, has responded to this morning’s press briefing on the increasing COVID-19 infection rates, calling for strict social distancing measures and an effective testing system.
UNISON, which has 1.3 members working in public services such as education, local government and the NHS, has criticised the government for implementing ineffective measures and accused ministers of giving out “confusing messaging and mixed signals” when it comes to public health.
The union’s intervention came after England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, gave a televised briefing about the recent increases in coronavirus cases.
During the briefing, the two scientists presented data that suggested that, without stricter measures in place, the UK could have up to 50,000 new coronavirus cases per day within a month.
UNISON have subsequently called on the government to make safety measures for workers and the public a priority, requesting stricter social distancing, an improved test-and-trace system and assurances that low-paid workers are not penalised financially for staying away from work if they have to self-isolate.
Following the briefing, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said:
“The situation is spiralling out of control and the measures in place so far aren’t working. Confusing messages and mixed signals from ministers aren’t helping either.
“There’s simply no time for complacency. The government must make public safety a priority.
“Strict social distancing, fixing the bungled testing system and ensuring low-paid staff don’t take a financial hit for staying off work are crucial.
“Key workers in the NHS, care, schools and other public services must be protected for all our sakes.”
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This morning’s briefing was seen by many as a way to ready the public for an announcement from Boris Johnson tomorrow, in which the prime minister is expected to tighten restrictions on a national level. Mr Johnson is due to chair a cabinet and Cobra meeting tomorrow morning ahead of the expected announcement in the Commons in the early afternoon.
In a further sign that lockdown restrictions are set to be increased, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have today announced that the Covid alert level has now been raised from 3 to 4 – the first time the alert level has been raised since the system was set up in May.