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Coronavirus: We've been left high and dry by lack of guidance and protective equipment, claims PSNI officer

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Police officers on patrol

Police officers on patrol

Police officers on patrol

Police are being left defenceless against the worst public health crisis for a generation, it can be revealed.

Front line PSNI officers are responding to calls without appropriate personal protective equipment to safeguard them from the coronavirus.

It is understood areas in a number of stations have already been closed for deep cleaning and officers sent home to self-isolate after several separate Covid-19 scares.

Concerns have been raised about measures currently in place when a person is taken into custody, as well as incidents where officers come into close contact with the public.

In particular, officers have called for clarification over what action is appropriate for them to take to protect themselves if a person spits at them.

One officer said: "We feel like we've been left high and dry.

"Even at the best of times we don't have ready access to hygiene personal protective equipment.

"The call handlers are asking whether there's a risk of people present at a scene having coronavirus, but that's working on the assumption that the caller knows or is even telling the truth.

"Then what happens if we have someone in the back of the car and they have coronavirus?

"We're being told to stay two metres away from people and to wash our hands, that's the extent of the advice we're getting, but police vehicles are notoriously tight.

"It's impossible to stay two metres away from anyone in one of them, even in the Land Rovers.

"We're worried about what happens if someone spits at us; as far as a lot of us are concerned, it's potentially life-threatening and if that's the case, we have the right to use a proportionate response.

"We don't have spit hoods here; spitting is dirty at the best of times, but there's a real risk with it now.

"That only has to happen to two crews in a night, which potentially halves the presence in any one area if vehicles are taken off the ground to be cleaned and officers are sent home."

While no official instructions have been issued, officers have been warned to expect leave to be cancelled in the coming months as the response to Covid-19 steps up a gear.

It is understood Royal Navy crews are returning to the UK with a view to potentially guarding emergency departments.

In sharp contrast to the scant official guidance made available to PSNI officers, An Garda Siochana has issued comprehensive information to its officers.

A force-wide email states that the pandemic, referred to by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as "the worst public crisis for a generation" is an "exceptional event".

As such, it allows for the "adoption of measures indispensable for the protection of life, health and safety of the community at large".

Among measures put in place to enable gardai to function as effectively as possible are the introduction of a contingency roster, a limit on the number of officers taking annual leave at any one time, and the deferment of retirements.

More than 200 additional vehicles have been hired to assist community policing and liaison is ongoing with the Office of the Attorney General with a new to drafting additional contingency legislation. The use of smaller Garda stations as detention facilities to help prevent unnecessary exposure of staff to Covid-19 has also been recommended.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "The Police Service of Northern Ireland have a full range of business continuity plans to protect and maintain essential services. However, these are likely to be extremely challenging times for the police service and our partner organisations and we continue to work together to ensure we continue to protect the public and our staff.

"PSNI, as an employer and public service, is following all advice issued by the Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and Public Health Agency and has communicated the relevant information and advice to all officers and staff. Updates to the whole organisation are issued on a regular basis and we will communicate further steps in the days and weeks ahead, as advised by our partners, to help officers and staff protect themselves so that we remain in a position to keep our communities safe.

"We will continue to work with our partners to support the response to Covid-19 coronavirus and to ensure we have in place proportionate, appropriate and efficient procedures to address and respond to any challenges presented to the police service by Covid-19.

"This is a rapidly developing situation and we continue to take a lead from the Government and our public health partners."

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