The Government has finally outlined long-awaited steps which businesses should take as they prepare to reopen.
New rules setting out how eight industries can get back to work have been revealed after Boris Johnson unveiled a phased approach to easing the lockdown on Sunday.
From June 1, primary schools and non-essential shops will gradually reopen. A month later, on July 4 at the earliest, other shuttered businesses such as hairdressers, pubs, hotels and cinemas could follow suit.
But if they cannot meet social distancing measures, they will stay closed. Any increase in the rate of infection can easily derail the timetable that has been set out.
The guidance advises those in construction or working outside; factories and warehouses; homes, if employees have to visit households such as to make deliveries; laboratories and research facilities; offices and contact centres; restaurants; shops; and couriers or drivers.
The Government has asked all firms to test how exposed their business is to the outbreak and share findings with employees.
It emphasised that social distancing is paramount in the fight against Covid-19, with working from home encouraged as much as possible.
The new documents say: “No one is obliged to work in an unsafe environment.”
Workers’ unions have already criticised the prime minister for telling those who work in factories and on construction sites to resume their jobs from Wednesday, claiming many workplaces will not be safe yet despite evidence that mass closures are destroying the economy and will take years to recover from.
The government has acknowledged there will not be enough public transport options for people to travel to work without allowing coronavirus to spread.
In the capital, for example, even if the underground and buses were to run at pre-coronavirus levels, they will only be able to carry around 13pc to 15pc of the normal number of passengers.
Many workers will also face problems with childcare as schools will only gradually reopen before the summer holidays.
The guidance offers more clarity about what will need to change in the workplace for it to be less infectious. Here, we set out the approach recommended for each industry.
Shopkeepers have been told it will be safe to reopen in three weeks’ time.
This gives non-essential branches some breathing space before they allow shoppers back into stores and before workers can return safely.
As expected, the guidance draws on the experiences of thousands of supermarkets and other essential retailers.
It includes installing floor markings with tape or paint to help people keep a two metre distance. Stores must also adopt one-in-one-out policies, a queuing system outside shops where possible, and plastic screens at the tills.
However, businesses are being told not to encourage the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a precautionary measure amid fears products could run short. Instead, social distancing, hygiene and shift work are seen as the go-to response for the pandemic.
The documents say: “Shopping centres should take responsibility for regulating the number of customers in the centre and the queuing process in communal areas on behalf of their retail tenants."
Separately, garden centres were told at last they can reopen from Wednesday as long as they ensure social-distancing measures are in place.
Hotels, restaurants and other consumer industries
Restaurants have been advised on how to operate a takeaway service safely – but no details were set out on how to operate when sit-in diners are finally allowed to return.
Interaction between kitchen workers and front of house staff and delivery drivers must be kept to a minimum and customers should be encouraged to wait in their cars, the guidance says.
Hand washing and surface cleaning should also be increased, while laminated menus should be cleaned and paper menus disposed of after each use.
Businesses should make regular announcements reminding customers to wash their hands regularly and contactless payments should be used where possible, according to the advice.
The guidance stopped short of advising how restaurants and pubs should operate a full service once lockdown restrictions are eased.
Businesses including restaurants, pubs, hotels and hairdressers have been deemed high risk because they rely on social interaction, and will be among the last permitted to reopen.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, says this will mean businesses such as nightclubs and music venues cannot open at all for now. Smaller pubs and restaurants may only be able to offer tables outdoors.
The hospitality industry is one of the UK’s largest employers with some 3.2 million workers, bringing in £133.5bn of annual sales to the economy.
Pubs and restaurants have been among the worst hit after the lockdown forced the majority of businesses to close from March 23, causing sales during the first three months of the year to drop 21pc compared with the previous quarter.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, says: “We are pleased to see pubs included as part of the possible reopening of the hospitality sector in July. This would be great news for those pubs who can meet the social distancing measures required by then.
“Of course, it is important to note that more clarity is still needed on the conditions that will be required for pubs to re-open in July. Due to the unique nature and wide range of pubs – no two pubs are the same – for many it may be a considerably longer time until they can fully re-open."
Ms Nicholls says hotels could provide useful testing grounds for reopening. Around 20pc of sites have stayed open for key workers during the crisis, but their restaurants and bars remain closed.
She says: “You could almost use those hotel restaurants as mini labs.
“Without letting any of the general public in, you could explore what kind of controls work in that space that’s already identified as meeting Covid-19 Secure workplace guidelines.”
Britain’s manufacturing sector, which makes up about 10pc of the economy and employs 2.7 million people, has been encouraged by the Government to keep working throughout the lockdown.
The release of sector specific advice does little to change practices which factories had to develop themselves while much of the rest of the economy was closed.
About 87pc of companies in the sector have maintained operations in some form throughout the lockdown, according to industry trade body MakeUK.
Companies have already embraced government advice to introduce one-way systems as people move around buildings, spread workstations apart, work back-to-back or side-to-side rather than face-to-face, and limit the use of shared equipment and tools.
Companies have also already broken down workforces into groups to limit social contact so that where it is inevitable, it is between the same people.
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of MakeUk, added: "Many manufacturers are already operating at the top end of safe working and have adapted working environments in line with government guidance.”
Similar measures have also been adopted by the construction sector, which similarly was asked by ministers to continue working.
The sector, which employs about 1.4 million people is worth £113bn a year, was considered essential to the economy and many companies did manage to keep operating.
However, in advice to both sectors, government says that wearing extra protective equipment beyond what is normally required is “not beneficial”.
It added that coronavirus is a “different type of risk… and needs to be managed through social distancing, hygiene and fixed teams or partnering, not through the use of PPE.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, says: “Builders have been calling for clear direction from the Government and the Prime Minister has now made it plain that he wants a return to work.”
He added that coronavirus is still a risk which must be managed, and called for more direction on how PPE can be shared out so that all workers who need it are able to get it.
People who can work from home should continue to do so “for the foreseeable future”.
More than half of workers in office-based industries such as media, law and IT were already used to logging on from their living rooms before Covid-19, according to the Office for National Statistics, compared to just 30pc of the wider workforce.
Firms whose staff cannot work from home may include companies dealing with sensitive information or companies that do not have the technology needed.
In these cases, workers should be kept two metres apart. If this is not possible, firms should consider whether the activity needs to continue. Screens and barriers should be used to separate staff, who should sit side-by-side or back-to-back but not face-to-face. Floor markings should be used to help people stay two metres apart.
Workstations should only be shared if necessary, such as in call centres. They should be cleared, cleaned and sanitised between changeovers. Use of printers and whiteboards should be restricted and buildings cleaned frequently. Hand sanitiser should be provided.
Movement within buildings should be minimised and meetings conducted remotely where possible. The number of people in buildings must be limited to enable social distancing.
Staff should be split into fixed teams or shift groups to minimise contact between workers and ensure it is between the same people. Drop-off points or “transfer zones” should be used to pass items between workers without direct contact.
Neil McLocklin, head of strategic consultancy at estate agent Knight Frank, says: “High risk areas such as lifts, break or café areas, washrooms, printers, coat cupboards, and vending areas will change dramatically as offices will be re-arranged to encourage a new set of behaviours to ensure the safety of employees.”
Similar to shops, the spread of the disease should be managed through social distancing, hygiene and assigning fixed teams or partners.
For all businesses, arrival, departure and break times should be staggered, additional parking and bike racks provided and one-way systems and extra entrances introduced to reduce congestion.
Keypads and other touch-based security systems should be avoided and additional hand-washing facilities provided.
Workers should be encouraged to bring their own food. Packaged food is best so that canteens do not have to be fully reopened.
Visitors should be minimised, a record kept and social distancing observed.
Firms should prepare training materials for workers before their return and use signs and other forms of communication to keep staff updated on safety measures.
David D’Souza, a director of the CIPD, the professional body for HR executives, says: “Any return should be necessary, planned, gradual, safe and mutually agreed [with staff].”