Enforcing social distancing guidance will become impossible, says CIEH

05 July 2021, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has said that any decision to move social distancing and the wearing of facemasks from a legal requirement to simply guidance will make it impossible for them to be enforced.

Later today, the Prime Minister is expected to announce further easing of lockdown measures in England coming into effect on 19 July. Reports have strongly suggested that the legal requirement to wear facemasks indoors in public places and on transport will be removed and replaced with advisory guidance. It is also anticipated that the one-metre rule will go, being replaced with guidance for businesses and hospitality on how to mitigate the risks.

However, CIEH has raised concerns about the impact this will have on compliance and the ability of its members to continue to enforce rules or guidance. 

Environmental health professionals have played a vital role throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, from supporting contact tracing efforts, to business closure enforcement during lockdown, and were classified by the UK Governments as 'key workers'. Following the gradual reopening of businesses, they have been at the forefront of inspecting establishments to ensure that they are COVID-secure and working with businesses to help them comply with government guidelines.

Gary McFarlane, Northern Ireland Director at CIEH said:

“We have been speaking to our members across the country in both the private sector and on the regulatory side. They are telling us that vital sectors are starting to already experience significant issues with COVID-19 compliance amongst the public, with face coverings and social distancing in particular causing issues.

Attempts to ensure that the public adhere to guidance are increasingly mixed and causing notable stress on the staff responsible for enforcing the rules.

Our members are now seeing considerable push-back from a fatigued public, with verbal abuse and refusals to comply reflecting a fraying commitment to following guidance.

With enforcement already difficult whilst social distancing and mask-wearing is a legal requirement, any move to make these things a matter of guidance will make it impossible for our members to enforce them.

If the UK Government wants social distancing to continue it will have to legislate for it and make it black and white.”

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