Keep wearing face masks, says Kirklees Council leader
Thousands of council workers in Kirklees have been encouraged to keep wearing face masks as the country is removed from Coronavirus restrictions.
Freedom Day means most lockdown rules were relaxed at one minute past midnight.
Wearing a mask is no longer mandatory.
But Kirklees’ council chief said the authority had a duty of care to both its 8,374 workers and the borough’s 400,000 residents – and that caution was required.
Coun Shabir Pandor said: “The advice to our staff will be to keep on wearing the masks and [to] the public at large my advice would be keep on doing the same thing.
“In the coming months it’s going to be very, very testing.
“It’s really important that we exercise caution, we continue to be kind with each other, we safeguard ourselves and, in whatever we do, we understand how that impacts on other people.”
Coun Pandor was asked to clarify the authority’s stance by Lib Dem group leader Clr John Lawson at a meeting of full council last week (July 14) in the run-up to the relaxation of lockdown rules.
His comments came 48 hours before the council’s health chief Rachel Spencer-Henshall revealed that Covid infection rates in the borough had gone up by more than a third in a week.
It prompted a plea by Ms Spencer-Henshall for anyone over 18 to “get vaccinated now”.
Coronavirus infection rates are currently very high across the country, including in Kirklees, where the rate is now highest amongst the 20-39 age group.
Perhaps in anticipation of the figures being released, Clr Pandor said: “Infections are still rising and what we have to do is understand how we live with Covid.
“There will be measures that will be put in place for people who are ‘shielding’ and I suspect there are many of our staff who will fall into that category.
“But we will need to go through with a fine tooth comb what the details are regarding that guidance.”
He said there were “mixed feelings” about the relaxation of restrictions and he understood some people’s uncertainty over sweeping away guidelines.
He said the council “strongly recommended” that staff and service users adhered to the fundamental advice around face masks, personal space, meeting outside, hand-washing and good ventilation indoors.
He said the last 15 months of the pandemic had seen “real, strong community spirit” as well as strong leadership from the council and within the voluntary community sector.
He added: “As long as we keep on doing that I am optimistic, but having said that we cannot get our eye off the ball.
“There is still a lot more work to do. We are not out of the woods yet. Although the light at the end of the tunnel may be there we need to exercise caution.
“As a responsible employer we haver a duty of care to our staff but also we have a duty of care to our residents.”