By Arj Singh
The government has been accused by Tory MPs of confusing people about the coronavirus lockdown after the health secretary said workers should continue to travel if they cannot do their job at home.
Matt Hancock said “employers should be taking every possible step to make sure that remote working can happen”.
But he added in a Commons statement: “I want to be absolutely clear, when people absolutely cannot work from home they can still go to work, indeed it’s important that they do to keep the country running.”
Government advice issued after Boris Johnson‘s address to the nation made clear travelling to and from work was permitted “but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home”.
But images of packed London underground trains has sparked a row between the prime minister and London mayor Sadiq Khan as builders continue to go to work on crammed Tube trains operating on a reduced service.
Tory MPs said the current situation was confusing people and leading to wider issues with ensuring the public follows the government’s restrictions, which are designed to limit the spread of Covid-19.
There is a confusion about whether you should be going to work or notTory MP Kevin Hollinrake
Former public health minister Steve Brine said: “The government last night was saying the only reason you may leave home to go to work is if you are a key worker and that then changed to work from home if possible.
“This is the confusion and people are not sure what they can and cannot do and this is a pattern we have sadly seen repeated which has led to – lockdown, no lockdown.
“Could you say again (what the rules are)? I’m not looking to cause trouble, I’m just looking for clarity.”
Hancock replied: “The prime minister was clear in his address to the nation, I’ve been clear in my statement today and the guidance on gov.uk is absolutely clear on this point.”
Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake called for a full-scale month-long lockdown of everything to end the confusion.
He said: “He is damned if he is and damned if he doesn’t but there is a confusion about whether you should be going to work or not.
“From a health perspective and an economic perspective, as a business owner, I would much rather have a short, sharp shock in which everything is closed down for 30 days to get this disease under control and allow him to get his testing and tracking in place so we can defeat this disease.”
Meanwhile, the SNP’s Patrick Grady said workers in call centres for outbound sales were being “asked to come in and work in cramped conditions that we know exist in places like that”.
He added: “Should these people not be taking advantage of the government’s furlough scheme so their employees do not have to come into work?”
Hancock said that activity “in a technical way” can be done from home.
“Where work can’t be done from home the employers should be following the guidelines to keep people more than two metres apart,” the health secretary added.
Hancock said the government had ordered “millions” of coronavirus tests but refused his predecessor Jeremy Hunt’s demands to set a date for the roll-out of mass testing.
Hancock said: “I’m not going to give him such a date today because we are in the middle of buying the tests that are needed and especially the new tests that have just come on stream.
“I haven’t been able to give you that date but we have now purchased millions of these tests which are arriving in the next days and weeks and I will be in a position to give you a more concrete timetable and make sure you get that as soon as we can make it public.”