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Coronavirus: UK under pressure to stop construction work

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Constructions workers on a building site in Belfast. (Photo by Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)
Construction workers, politicians, and unions have called on the government to prioritise public health over the economy. (Liam McBurney/PA Images via Getty Images)

The government is under growing pressure to put a stop to non-essential construction work to help combat the spread of coronavirus in the UK.

Construction work is currently going ahead across the country as long as people are two metres apart from each other, according to health secretary Matt Hancock.

As part of new measures announced on Monday, Hancock told workers to only leave their houses to go out to work “where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.” He said those who cannot work from home should go to work “to keep the country running.”

Hancock said builders and construction workers — many of whom work outdoors — could and should continue to go to work as long as they are able to remain two metres apart at all times.

“The judgment we have made is that in work, in many instances, the two metre rule can be applied,” he said.

Read more: Confusion over who are 'key workers' and what shops can open

But many construction workers have reported commuting to busy building sites on packed London Underground trains leading to calls from workers, politicians, and unions for the government to prioritise public health over the economy with many saying the work is not essential and is putting people at risk.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith said on BBC Two’s Newsnight: “I think the balance is where we should delete some of those construction workers from going to work and focus only on the emergency requirements.”

Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, told the programme the decision to allow non-essential work appeared to have been made for “economic reasons.”

“When you're in the middle of a global pandemic, health reasons alone really should be guiding all decision-making,” he said.

In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said building sites should close, unless it involves an essential building such as a hospital.

Some builders and construction workers have said they feel “angry and unprotected” going to work, while others feel under pressure from employers to go in.

Some construction companies are choosing to close anyway. Housebuilders Bellway and Persimmon are shutting construction sites despite being allowed to stay open amid the lockdown to help protect workers and limit the spread of coronavirus.

There have been over 8,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and 422 deaths, according to the latest Department of Health figures.

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