26 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Agency says ‘Stop hiding at home’

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The United Kingdom Home Office has been accused of contradicting Government guidance on dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic after it emerged that some Passport Office staff have been pressured to return to their offices.

They had reportedly been told that 80 per cent of the population would get infected and “we cannot hide away from it forever”.

Up to 2,000 workers at Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO) have been asked to be available to go back in to work, with plans to have 500 people in offices at any one time.

In a statement, the Home Office said it was adhering to Public Health England’s guidance by maintaining social distancing at passport offices, saying there was no advice saying that people should only go to work if they were an essential or key worker.

According to a leaked transcript of a conference call with staff, Deputy Scientific Adviser at the Home Office, Rupert Shute said: “You are no more at risk at the workplace as you would be in your home or at the supermarket. It is about minimising it.

“We are working on the assessment that 80 per cent of us, if we haven’t already, will get the virus. We cannot hide away from it forever.”

This mirrored earlier Government briefings, but the position was overtaken when computer modelling suggested a lockdown would be needed to reduce infections.

Chief Operating Officer at the Passport Office, Myrtle Lloyd, also on the leaked call, reportedly told staff the guidance did not mean they “should stay at home instead of delivering critical services”.

General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, Mark Serwotka said it was absolutely scandalous that Her Majesty’s Passport Office was suggesting employees could go back into work during a pandemic to process routine passports.

“The cavalier approach to our members’ health and safety is shameful and ultimately puts them in greater danger of contracting COVID-19,” Mr Serwotka said.

London, 11 April 2020

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