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Leo Varadkar urges employers not to pressure staff to return to offices

The Tánaiste said that there was “clear evidence” that people are drifting back to their workplace.

Image: TOM HONAN

TÁNAISTE LEO VARADKAR has reminded employers not to ask workers to return to offices yet, as some restrictions are eased this week.

From yesterday, people can travel 20km from their home or within their county, and two households can meet outdoors for socialising purposes, rather than exercise.

More construction workers also returned, and the remaining students who hadn’t yet returned to school buildings are doing so this week.

Despite the number of Covid-19 cases being reduced to a fraction of what they were in January, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment reminded employers that their staff should continue to work from home, where possible, while current restrictions remain in place.

“This is a significant week in our fight against the pandemic as thousands of construction workers go back to work and all pupils return to school,” the Tánaiste said in a statement.

“The easing of some restrictions, such as allowing two households to meet outdoors for social or leisure purposes and the end of the 5km rule should lift everyone’s spirits in this long battle.

With this increase in movement, employers and their staff should remember there is no change to the official advice to continue to work from home if at all possible.

“With daily new cases still in the mid-hundreds, there remains a high risk of new outbreaks occurring if large numbers of people return to the workplace.

“There is clear evidence that some people are drifting back to the office or the workplace, and new data from the CSO this week shows that more people are moving beyond 10km of their homes.

I particularly want to remind employers that staff members should not be pressurised to return to work. Daily case numbers remain high, as do the numbers in ICU.

The five day moving average of cases stands at 410; while there are around 50 people in ICU, with one admission in the previous 24 hours.

The Minister said: “While the vaccination programme is making great progress, and 20% of adults have received at least one vaccine at this point, we still have a few months to go until everyone has been fully vaccinated.

“My message to everyone is that working from home has played a huge part in containing Covid-19. It will be one of the most effective tools as we enter the next stage.

“I know a lot of people are tired of working from home and are keen to see colleagues again, but we have to stick with this for a few more months. When we go back to the office, we want it to be in a safe and sustainable way. We are just not at that point yet.”

Almost since the start of the pandemic, the advice from Government has been for employees to work from home if possible.

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The Government and NPHET have warned of the risks of transmission in offices – not because of conditions in workplaces themselves, but because of the socialising element.

At a NPHET briefing on 15 February, Dr Ronan Glynn said of the 181 outbreaks there were across workplaces:

“People are adhering to the guidelines and protocols in front of house, but when they go on their break, when they go to the canteen they relax, and unfortunately that’s when the disease is getting transmitted.” 

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