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New figures released by the ONS reveal that at least eight thousand working age deaths were linked to COVID-19 in England and Wales between 9 March and 28 December in 2020, prompting the GMB Union to call for immediate action to protect keyworkers.

Staistician Ben Humberstone, Head of Health Analysis and Life Events, explains the findings:

“Jobs with regular exposure to COVID-19 and those working in close proximity to others continue to have higher COVID-19 death rates when compared with the rest of the working age population. Men continue to have higher rates of death than women, making up nearly two thirds of these deaths.”

“As the pandemic has progressed, we have learnt more about the disease and the communities it impacts most. There are a complex combination of factors that influence the risk of death; from your age and your ethnicity, where you live and who you live with, to pre-existing health conditions. Our findings do not prove that the rates of death involving COVID-19 are caused by differences in occupational exposure.”

Statistics revealed that keyworkers in low-paid occupations, such as hospitality, food and drink processing, transport, and healthcare roles were all at risk of a statistically significant elevated risk of dying.

Occupations with the highest number of COVID-19 linked deaths were (as classified by the ONS) care workers and home carers (347 deaths), taxi and cab drivers (213 deaths), sales and retail assistants (180 deaths), nurses (157 deaths), and cleaners and domestic workers (153 deaths).

The GMB is campaigning for full provision of high-quality PPE, individualised risk assessments, a dramatic increase in poverty Statutory Sick Pay rates, and an urgent injection of resources into health and safety enforcement.

Dan Shears, GMB National Health, Safety and Environment Director, said:  

“The deaths of eight thousand working age people is a devastating and bitter milestone that could have been avoided.

“The truth is that the UK was too slow to respond to the outbreak in workplaces. The messages from Ministers have been inconsistent, and to date there have been no prosecutions of employers for breaches of regulations relating to coronavirus.

“Workers are still being forced to use inadequate PPE, and some people are attending work despite being infectious because they cannot afford to self-isolate. These are structural problems that could have been fixed months ago.

“The time for action is now – Ministers and employers must urgently convene with workers’ representatives to address the ongoing and needless risks in workplaces before more lives are lost.”