There have now been more than 2.5 million coronavirus cases around the globe, and nearly 179,000 deaths – more than 17,000 of them in the UK.
Readers have been getting in touch to ask questions about the outbreak.
My company wants me to return to work on 1 May but this is still within the lockdown period. Is this legal? – Jim Bridgeman, Kettering
At the beginning of the lockdown (23 March), the government said that everyone should work from home if they could, and only go into a workplace if their job “absolutely cannot be done from home”.
Your employer has a duty to protect your health and safety. If you or a member of your household have an underlying health condition which increases vulnerability to coronavirus, you could argue that you have a right not to come into work.
The arbitration service Acas says employers should “listen to any concerns staff may have and should take steps to protect everyone”.
If you still do not want to go in, you could ask to take time off as holiday or unexpected leave, but your employer does not have to agree to this.
An employer could bring disciplinary action against an employee who they consider to be refusing to work without a good reason,
However, the business support service Croner advises them to act cautiously. It says: “Forcing an employee to come into work against their will, in these unprecedented circumstances, is likely to get messy fast, so try to be as considerate and flexible as possible.”
What do I need to know about the coronavirus?
Do we not have reusable PPE and can’t it just be washed or left for three days for any present virus to die? – Chris Stone, Lancashire
Personal protective equipment (PPE) protects health care workers from coming into contact with blood or body fluids that may contain some infectious agents (germs).
All PPE worn during the highest-risk situations – such as aprons, gloves and surgical masks – should usually be disposed of after a single use or session.
However, guidelines now say NHS staff can reuse some kit where it is safe to do so, even if it is labelled as single-use by the manufacturer.
The Health and Safety Executive says it recognises “some compromise” is needed when there are extreme shortages of kit, and that these “exceptional circumstances” do not reflect its standard approach.
For example, some gowns could be washed by the hospital laundry and reused, it says.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors in the UK, is not happy with this situation. Dr Rob Harwood, chairman of its consultants committee, said “it absolutely cannot compromise the protection of healthcare workers”.
The Royal College of Nursing says its members can refuse to treat patients as a “last resort” if adequate PPE has not been provided.
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