Offices have had more outbreaks of Covid-19 than any other workplace, according to Public Health England.
Data obtained by the BBC showed that there were more than 500 confirmed or suspected Covid-19 outbreaks in offices in the second half of 2020 – more than in supermarkets, construction sites, warehouses, restaurants and cafés combined.
More than 60 suspected coronavirus outbreaks were recorded in offices in the first two weeks of the current national lockdown, PHE figures revealed.
The government has urged people to work from home if possible and the current lockdown rules for England state that “you may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home”.
One employee who works in an office for Greater Manchester Police claimed there had been multiple coronavirus cases in her workplace.
She told the BBC: “I just stepped out of the office, and when I came back, somebody was sitting at the workstation on the computer and using the phone with no mask. I was really angry and very upset.”
In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said the health safety of its workers was a priority and it had taken a “proactive approach to keep our officers and staff safe”. It said all of its buildings are Covid-secure and that staff can raise concerns in a number of ways.
Last week the PCS union called for the government to intervene following repeated Covid-19 outbreaks at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency office in Swansea. Around 500 of its employees have contracted coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
A spokesperson said the nature of some roles required employees to be in the office due to the “essential nature of the public services we provide”.
Earlier this month the Health and Safety Executive revealed it had received 8,427 Covid-related complaints between 6 and 14 January, resulting in enforcement action in 81 cases.
An HSE spokesperson said: “Inspectors continue to be out and about, putting employers on the spot and checking that they are complying with health and safety law. Our role in contributing to the national response to reduce Covid-19 transmissions and support economic recovery has been widely recognised.
“We continue to scale up the number of spot check calls and visits we are doing so we can reach as many businesses as possible during the current lockdown period.”
Meanwhile, the long-term effectiveness of remote working was called into question by two banking executives this week, despite admissions that it has been successful so far.
At a panel during Tuesday’s World Economic Forum, Barclays chief executive Jes Staley said: “It’s remarkable it’s working as well as it is, but I don’t think it’s sustainable.
“It will increasingly be a challenge to maintain the culture and collaboration that these large financial institutions seek to have and should have.”
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