A member of staff at a Wetherspoons pub in north London cleans a perspex barrier (Image: Getty)
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Guidance on using plastic screens in pubs, restaurants and offices is not changing at the moment, the government has said.
Downing Street said the current rules “remain” – despite a leaked memo suggesting the screens could in fact be making Covid transmission worse.
The Cabinet Office paper, obtained by Politico, suggested the screens were not being placed as a proper barrier and should be axed by ministers.
The screens could in fact make the situation worse by blocking the flow of air to disperse the virus, the paper is said to have warned.
But Boris Johnson ’s official spokesman dismissed the leaked paper today, saying: “These claims come from a document that we do not recognise and it does not reflect the latest government thinking.”
He did not deny the document could be real but said: “We need to analyse and understand more data on this variant before any new plans are considered.”
Plastic screens separate staff and drinkers at the bar in many pubs in the UK
Venues and offices spent large sums erecting screens and other ‘Covid-secure’ measures last summer after guidance recommended them to curb the spread of the virus.
The guidance also said managers should increase cleaning and hand-washing, limit time together, and have people work back-to-back or side-to-side.
However, since last year scientists have increasingly stressed the importance of ventilation and the main government slogan has been expanded to “hands, face, space and fresh air”.
Asked about the guidance on screens, the PM’s spokesman said: “The Health and Safety Executive has set out that guidance states workplaces can use screens between people to create a physical barrier where social distancing is not possible.
“The guidance has been published online for workplaces such as offices, and screens are included as a measure there. That guidance remains.”
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He went on: “HSE will keep its guidance under review based on the latest evidence, and should that evidence necessitate a change, it would be changed.”
“We require all businesses to comply with the guidance the regulations that are in place – those are clearly set out and businesses should follow them.
“Obviously we keep all the evidence under review and would take action if necessitated to do so. We understand the importance of ventilation.
The leaked memo also claims the government could stop short of telling millions of Brits to end 15 months of home working on July 19.
The internal advice suggests ministers should avoid telling people to return to the office – even when ‘step four’ of the delayed lockdown roadmap happens in England.
Instead, ministers should either stay neutral or actively encourage people to continue working from home, it claims.
The Cabinet Office paper also reportedly delivers a stinging criticism of £96.35-a-week sick pay.
The internal assessment finds the current isolation policy only has “low to medium” effectiveness because people on low incomes and in precarious work do not have adequate support, it is reported.
Workers who earn more than a set threshold qualify for a statutory minimum weekly sick payment of £96.35 – which unions and Labour say is far too low.