Perspex screens that have sprung up in some offices and restaurants do not prevent the spread of Covid and could actually increase transmissibility, officials have told ministers.
Ministers have been told the screens should be scrapped, according to a Whitehall document setting out recommendations to ministers on how England can eventually “live with Covid”.
The draft document says the transparent plastic screens are often incorrectly positioned and could make matters worse by blocking airflow that helps disperse any virus droplets.
It also recommends a boost in financial support for self isolation and suggests the government needs to decide whether to encourage people back to the office after the July 19 final easing of restrictions, remain neutral, or to continue to recommend home working where possible.
HuffPost UK understands that there are no current plans to introduce any of the proposals, while Downing Street said the document “doesn’t reflect the latest government thinking”.
But the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “The Health and Safety Executive [HSE] will keep its guidance under review based on the latest evidence, and should that evidence necessitate a change, it would be changed.”
A senior Tory suggested ministers should urgently address the issue of plastic screens, after the document obtained by Politico London Playbook suggested that they can actually increase the risk of Covid transmission by blocking airflow.
Ministers have been given clear guidance that the screens, which are in place in the House of Commons chamber and a vast array of businesses from offices to restaurants, should be scrapped, Playbook reported.
Senior Tory Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown suggested ministers should urgently update guidance to urge businesses to scrap the screens.
“I think it’s an interesting finding and I suspect before too long those screens everywhere will disappear,” the treasurer of the backbench Tory 1922 committee told HuffPost UK.
Asked whether the government should make an announcement on the findings quickly, he said: “Yes I think it should.”
According to Playbook, the draft document also criticised the government for failing to sufficiently support people to self isolate if they have Covid.
The existing isolation policy only has a “low to medium” effect because people on low incomes and in precarious jobs are not supported to isolate, meaning there are “barriers” and “disincentives” to staying at home.
It recommends that ministers improve support to help stop the spread of Covid, Playbook said.
Clifton-Brown supported the recommendation, suggesting people with a positive test should be given support of up to “hundreds” of pounds, while also facing random spot checks to ensure they are self isolating.
“I think it’s a mixture of incentives and enforcement,” the Cotswolds MP said.
“People have got to know that there’s a real chance that somebody is going to knock on their door at a random time to make sure they are there.
“But in return they will get a payment of a few hundred pounds.”
The document also reportedly said the government needs to decide whether to urge people to go back to work when restrictions are lifted on July 19, whether to remain neutral on the issue, or to encourage people to work from home.
It also suggests drawing up minimum standards of ventilation for offices and that face masks may still be required.
A UK government spokesperson said:“We have paused at step three [of the road map out of lockdown] for up to four weeks due to the new Delta variant, and we will continue to assess the latest data on this variant over the coming weeks.”