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Published on Thursday, April 9, 2020

Passport Office staff 'to return to work next week'






Passport Office staff will return to work after Easter to avoid being overwhelmed with passport applications once the lockdown ends and people start to think of travelling again.


However, some of the thousands of workers at Her Majesty's Passport Office centres have expressed concern that being forced back to work puts them at risk of catching coronavirus.


HMPO says it is maintaining social distancing at its offices in Belfast, Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport and Peterborough.


On Tuesday, staff were told by a Home Office scientific adviser that 80% of people would get Covid-19 in the end and 'we can't hide away from it forever', according to the BBC.


According to a transcript of a conference call with HMPO staff, chief operating officer Myrtle Lloyd said: "What is also critical for us as a business is to have a manageable level of work in the system, so that when we start our recovery we are not overwhelmed by our demands."


Sources at the Public and Commercial Services Union told the BBC that up to 2,000 staff would be asked to go back to work, with 500 in offices at any one time.


The trade union claims that advice from a government official at the meeting was out of step with government policy.


According to the transcript, the Home Office deputy scientific adviser, Rupert Shute, said that staying at home was important but 'we also have to keep functioning our lives'.


"You are no more at risk at the workplace as you would be in your home or at the supermarket. It is about minimising it," he said.


"We are working on the assessment that 80% of us, if we haven't already, will get the virus."


He added: "We cannot hide away from it forever."


The Public and Commercial Services Union told the BBC his comments were 'extremely irresponsible and totally contradicted current government guidance'.


A Home Office spokesperson dismissed suggestions the health of staff was being put at risk, saying in a statement to the BBC: "Her Majesty's Passport Office is fully adhering to public health advice across all of its offices and adopting social distancing measures to keep both its staff and customers safe.


"It continues to operate at substantially restricted staffing levels with a significant number of people working from home where possible, and staff are prioritising emergency cases.


"Guidance is also available for people who are travelling into work.


"It was made clear in the meeting that the government's priority is slowing the spread of coronavirus and we all have a part to play in order to protect the NHS and save lives."


It said security measures and data protection make it difficult for all staff to work from home.

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