The Welsh Government will introduce a law compelling all employers to make sure their workers keep two metres apart amid the coronavirus pandemic, Wales’ First Minister has said.
Mark Drakeford said the social distancing legislation, the first in the UK, will require bosses to “put the needs of their workforce first” when it comes into force on Monday or Tuesday of next week.
At the Welsh Government’s daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, the First Minister said the new law is in response to people in Wales saying they are fearful their health is being compromised in the workplace.
Public Health Wales said a further 24 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 141.
It also said 345 new cases have tested positive for the disease, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Wales to 2,466.
Mr Drakeford said: “We are going to put into law the two-metre requirement in the workplace, requiring employers to take all reasonable actions to comply with that two-metre rule.
“It’s been advice up until now, and now it’s going to be part of the regulations.
“We will publish fresh guidance alongside the regulations, and the regulations we will pass today will come into force on Monday evening or Tuesday morning.”
He added: “It is simply saying to employers they must put the needs of their workforce first, that their health and wellbeing must be top of their agenda, and the two-metre rule is there to protect that.
“But if they take all reasonable actions and comply with the guidance we’re giving them their business can continue.
“This is not about stopping business from operating, it’s about business operating in a way that is safe for their employees.”
These are unprecedented times and directors are having to react quickly so it’s important firms have the support and clear guidance in place to put these rules into practiceRobert Lloyd Griffiths, Institute of Directors Wales
A Welsh Government spokesman said the new law will extend current social distancing laws, which are currently in place for essential food-buying locations such as supermarkets.
Institute of Directors Wales director Robert Lloyd Griffiths said following the announcement: “Employers have a duty of care to their people and should be doing what they can to help stop the spread of the virus.
“These are unprecedented times and directors are having to react quickly so it’s important firms have the support and clear guidance in place to put these rules into practice.”
Unison Wales regional secretary Tanya Palmer said: “Every employer has a duty to keep their staff safe and it’s important for all of us to follow Government advice on Covid-19.
“People need to do everything they can to stay healthy and out of hospital so our healthcare workers can concentrate on those most severely affected by the virus.”
Dan Shears, the GMB union’s health, safety and environment director, said: “This is welcome news but as always the devil will be in the detail.
“We know only too well that there are many employers who are simply ignoring this rule because it is merely guidance.
“Those companies will now need to fall into line or fear the consequences.”
At the briefing, Mr Drakeford also issued a rallying call to industry to help with the manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, as well as other equipment to help with the fight against Covid-19.
Warning of a “difficult month” for families, Mr Drakeford called for an urgent review of restrictions for the public as the three-week lockdown reaches its midway point.
He said: “By the time we get into the beginning of next week, across the UK we need to be aiming at a decision about what will happen beyond Easter Tuesday.
“And while I don’t at the moment see a ramping up of restrictions, I don’t myself believe these restrictions are likely to simply come to an end when the three weeks originally announced is reached.”
Mr Drakeford criticised the “confusion” caused by Westminster Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s pledge that the UK will hit 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of the month.
He said: “It’s really important that our colleagues in London, when they’re making announcements, check and check again whether what they’re saying is an announcement for England or it’s an announcement for the UK.
“Yesterday’s announcement of 100,000 tests was subject to that confusion, announced as a UK figure then announced as an England figure, and Downing Street apparently this morning saying it’s a UK figure after all.
“It’s clarity that’s important and checking to make sure that when figures are announced, that it’s accurate so people know they can rely on them.”
He said Wales is carrying out 1,100 tests a day, with a pledge to be at 5,000 tests a day by the middle of the month and 9,000 tests a day over the rest of April.