Opinion: Restrictions are lifted but caution is needed as we prepare to return to the workplace
Matthew Hicks, Suffolk County Council Leader
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Monday saw this country begin a new chapter in its fight against COVID-19 as the Government lifted the remaining restrictions left in place from lockdown.
It was a landmark moment for us all and I totally understand the sense of relief that many people will be feeling today.
However, we must remember that this pandemic is far from over. The virus is very much still with us and case numbers continue to rise across the country, so we have to tread cautiously as we move forward over the next few months.
One of the most significant changes that comes from the lifting of restrictions will be the return to the workplace.
Millions of us have been working from home for the last few months and to many, the idea of heading back to the office or the factory must seem as strange now as permanently working from home may have done before the pandemic.
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Employers will still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business and that includes the risk of COVID-19.
They have many factors to consider, including cleaning surfaces that people touch regularly, identifying poorly ventilated areas and taking steps to improve air flow, and communicating to staff and customers the measures that will have to be put in place.
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The government wants to see a gradual return to the workplace over the summer, and it is going to be a process that will call for patience and understanding as there is much to be ironed out.
This need for caution was the subject of a joint call I made with my fellow local authority leaders and directors of public health from across the East of England.
We pointed to the recent rises in infections in the younger age groups– which is beginning to lead to significant increases in people aged 60+ across our region - and reiterated the steps everyone needs to take to protect the most vulnerable in our community.
However, in each part of our region there are positive examples which demonstrate where local businesses, public sector and voluntary organisations are coming together to support others - to take positive choices, to play their part and do the right thing to keep infection levels as low as possible over the summer.
Ever since the start of the pandemic and lockdown people have rallied round to help others in the community – just from simple things like taking shopping to those who were in isolation – and I would like to emphasise that need for us to continue to be kind and considerate to each other as we move forward.
We know that a number of residents are anxious about the lifting of restrictions and this is a particular issue for those shielding, or who have had to shield, for much of the past 18 months.
There are many people who may not be able to get vaccinated or have conditions that leave them immuno-supressed, so wearing a mask in their presence is just one little way of helping them feel at ease.
In the meantime, the advice we have heard before will still apply so please continue to follow it. Regularly wash your hands, keep distancing, and get the vaccination as soon as it becomes available to you.
Also, please follow the instructions of places you visit such as shops, restaurants, and events to keep yourself and others safe, and to help our businesses bounce back and flourish.
Continue to test twice a week and do not go out if you have symptoms. Self-isolate if you or a close contact has had a positive COVID-19 result, or if you have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.
By us all continuing to look out for each other and following a few simple steps this will help us rebuild and return to a more normal life.