The government is facing growing pressure to halt non-essential construction work as it tries to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Downing Street briefing on Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock said construction workers could and should continue to work so long as they are two metres apart.
“The judgment we have made is that in work, in many instances, the 2m rule can be applied,” he said.
However critics say public health should be prioritised over the economy during the coronavirus outbreak.
Former Tory cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith joined those calling for a temporary suspension of work. He told the BBC: “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.”
The confusion over who is able to work came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announced a nationwide lockdown in a televised address on Monday night.
The PM said people should only leave their homes to shop for basic goods, fulfil medical needs, to exercise and to travel to work when “absolutely necessary”. However the types of work considered necessary has not yet been made clear.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Monday that construction on open-air sites can continue provided workers adhere to social distancing advice, but critics have pointed out this is almost impossible.
The mayor of London Sadiq Khan hit back at the government’s advice and called for London’s construction sites to be closed down, saying it would be “very, very difficult” for workers to follow social distancing advice. Khan and Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Mike Brown moved to suspend work on Crossrail and TfL sites yesterday.
Taylor Wimpey was one of the few housebuilders to announce the suspension of work yesterday. It said it would close its construction sites to prevent the spread of coronavirus among its 16,000 site workers.
Rival Redrow said its sites “currently remain open with strict precautions in place including enhanced levels of cleaning, additional hygiene facilities and social distancing”.
The chair of the British Safety Council Lawrence Waterman said: “The construction sector needs clarity from the government – on most sites social distancing will be impossible or simply unsafe. All non-essential construction should end now so that construction workers can go home and stay home like everyone else.”