Workers will need to keep wearing masks and sit behind plastic screens as they return to the office after Freedom Day

WORKERS have been told to keep wearing masks and to sit behind plastic screens as they return to the office after Freedom Day.

Millions of Brits have been working from home since the pandemic began last year – but will finally be able to return to the office after July 19.

Government guidance on staff returning to offices and workplaces was released last night ahead of the reopening – however it won't be back to "normal".

Offices are set to continue using social-distancing measures including keeping desks separate after the work from home order ends on July 19.

Although masks will no longer be compulsory indoors in England, the guidance says: "Consider encouraging the use of face coverings by workers (for example through signage), particularly in indoor areas where they may come into contact with people they do not normally meet. 

"This is especially important in enclosed and crowded spaces."

The guidance tells bosses: "You should discuss a return to the workplace with workers, and trade unions to make working arrangements that meet both business and individual needs.

"Employers and others must continue to follow statutory health and safety requirements, conduct a risk assessment, and take reasonable steps to manage risks in their workplace or setting."

Some businesses are reportedly considering using "fixed teams or partnering" – similar to a bubble system – to stop Covid from spreading throughout workplaces.

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The government guidance has been issued for "offices, factories, plants, warehouses, labs and research facilities and similar indoor environments".

Employers and unions have both slammed the new suggestions.

Institute of Directors policy director Dr Roger Barker told the Daily Mail: "Like everybody else, businesses across the country having been awaiting 'Freedom Day' with bated breath, but instead we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from Government that have dampened that enthusiasm.

"Return to work or continue to stay at home. Throw away your masks or continue to wear them. Today's long-awaited guidance from Government has done little to dispel that confusion."

Pubs and restaurants have been asked to consider continuing to use table service rather than returning to serving punters at the bar.

We have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from Government that have dampened [Freedom Day] enthusiasm

Hugh Osmond, founder of estaurant group Various Eateries, said Freedom Day was turning into 'Chaos Day'.

He said: "I can't see how anyone is supposed to know what to do… it's Wednesday and I can't tell you what we're going to do on Monday."

Trades Union Congress general secretary said the new back-to-work safety guidelines were a "recipe for chaos".

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick defended the government's new guidance – saying businesses should be "trusted" to make the safest decision.

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He said: "The guidance reflects the huge diversity of businesses across the country.

"If you're a business that's operating in a space where there's lots of room it's very unlikely that people are coming into close contact, then they'll come to a different judgement to for example Waterstones, which have announced that they will be asking their customers to wear masks.

"Some of their stores are quite small, people might be lingering whilst they're reading books, and that seems to be a logical decision and so we trust businesses, just as we trust members of the public."


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