Coronavirus legislation is to be strengthened in Wales to ensure that workplaces and shops that are open are safer.
Under new rules, businesses in Wales will have to carry out a specific coronavirus risk assessment if their premises are being used by staff and/or are open to the public. Through the risk assessments, businesses will have to consider issues such as hygiene, whether ventilation is adequate, whether PPE and face coverings are being used appropriately and ensuring that physical distancing is taking place.
Employers will also have to consider how they can maximise the number of people who can work from home. Wales is currently in an Alert Level Four lockdown, with everyone who can work from home required to do so.
The tightened rules come amid concerns over the new highly contagious strains of Coronavirus. The new variant announced as prevalent in the UK before Christmas is believed to be about 70% more transmissible than the previous variant, while there are concerns that other variants (not currently prevalent) imported from around the world may also be highly transmissible.
Announcing the new rules, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said;
“Risk assessments must be reviewed and updated regularly, whenever circumstances change and I want to make clear in law this includes whenever the coronavirus Alert levels change in Wales.
“Recording the risk assessment will only be required by those who employ five or more people. We are working closely with employers, trade unions, Local Authorities and the Health and Safety Executive to consider the detail on how to keep work settings safe.”
Mr Drakeford said that ministers have also met this week to discuss their role during their pandemic. Concerns have been raised recently that supermarkets and other shops which remain open may be contributing to the spread of COVID-19. In recent days, some supermarkets have stepped up their enforcement of Coronavirus protection measures due to the concerns.
Mr Drakeford said;
“Ministers have also met this week with key retailers to discuss their vital role during the pandemic. They set out the actions they are taking from providing sanitisers for hands and trolleys on entry; limiting the numbers in store at any one time; and making regular announcements reminding people to keep their distance from others.
“We will strengthen regulations to ensure retailers take these steps so that their premises are as safe as possible for shoppers and their employees alike. Many are already operating high standards and we need to raise the bar for those who could and should improve.
“However we all have a personal responsibility to help make shops as safe as possible. We all need to shop alone if we can, observe the 2m rule, practise good hand hygiene and wear a face covering unless exempt. Any abuse directed at store employees who remind people of their responsibilities will not be tolerated.”
On Wednesday, medical officers in Wales said that there were some signs that lockdown measures were starting to have a positive impact in reducing case numbers, however, it is expected that the NHS will still face very difficult pressures for some weeks to come.
On Thursday, a further 1,808 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Wales and a further 54 deaths attributed to the virus were also announced.