The Health Secretary said official data had revealed a ‘relatively low’ number of people have caught coronavirus since returning to work. Instead, he said mixing with other households at home remains the ‘core root of passing on this virus in this country’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The evidence from NHS Test and Trace for where people catch the disease [shows] that very largely they catch it from one household meeting another household in one of their homes.’
Hancock was then asked if the UK could copy France in advising employees to wear face masks while in their place of work. The government has previously denied any plans to make masks mandatory inside offices.
He said today: ‘We constantly look at the scientific advice and the answer here is that we are not currently considering doing that.’
Scientists have already reacted to Hancock’s words, with some stating that the risk of transmission between two households could easily transfer to an office environment if more people stop working from home.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: ‘It misses the point to state that workplace transmission is less significant than those that take place in the home.
‘While that may well be true, any transmission spreads the virus and pushes up the R number. The virus needs to be taken into homes by someone and they will have had to pick it up from somewhere else.
‘Therefore, even a single workplace transmission could lead to multiple onward infections in a family, household or other setting.’
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said there was not enough information available to be confident where a person had caught Covid-19.
He said the risks in offices ‘must exist’ but had so far not been measured and could be reasonably considered to be low.
Prof Neal continued: ‘Office working has an inherent basis of social distancing built in.
Most workplace outbreaks have been in factories producing food where temperatures are usually kept low.
‘There has been little published work from the UK identifying where people have caught infections. We do know that transmission occurs in hospitals, in care homes, households and families mixing in households along with overcrowded pubs as in Aberdeen.’
Prof Neal warned that once employees do start returning to work on a larger scale, things like car-share programmes or not wearing a mask on public transport will increase the risk of transmission.
He added: ‘Working from home minimises your and your family’s risk from Covid-19 and flu. Working from home will keep down the overall number of transmissions in the whole country.
‘If you can work from home without any detriment then it is reasonable to carry on doing this, but if you have to go to the office the risk is minimal and can be managed to be even lower.’
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