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Returning to work sparks fear, caution and also optimism

Photo: CNA

By Peter Michael and Bejay Browne

ALL across the employment spectrum, from private businesses to the public service, employees are both delighted and fearful of returning to work on Monday, while entrepreneurs, happy to see their firms reopen, must follow strict guidelines for staff or face repercussions from authorities who will be carrying out spot checks to ensure safety.

Around 25,000 businesses including smaller shops are expected to open as of Monday, and they will all be required to keep social-distancing measures such as providing eight square metres of space for each employee, the use masks if workers are in contact with the public and the provision of antiseptic handwash among other measures. Businesses must also record how many employees are working.

Phase 1 of the lifting of measures from May 4 to May 20 concern the construction sector, small retailers, markets and car washes, among others. Authorities have promised plenty of checks are are drafting in people from other public service departments such as traffic wardens. This is to be discussed on Monday between the relevant authorities and the president via teleconference. The public is also being asked to report lapses as the justice ministry says police can’t be everywhere.

Steve Michael, who runs a consulting company told the Sunday Mail the instructions for reopening businesses seemed straightforward. “We need to respect distancing and everyone’s area,” he said.

On reopening his own business, Michael said they would have a rotation cycle for employees and had equipped the office with masks and sanitisers.

“I am looking forward to going back to work,” he said. However, he added the quarantine was not difficult for his company, as the work depended on having computers, telephones, and internet. “So we managed working from home quite well,” he said.

Going back to the office however would be good because there was more of a team spirit from being together, and the company would not want to work from home on a permanent basis, he added.

Paphos hairdresser, Mandy Maskell, closed her salon ‘Etho’, in accordance with a decree, on March 16, along with other businesses, she said that she supported the way that Anastasiades and the Cyprus government had handled the crisis, and was looking forward to getting back to work on May 21. Hairdressers and beauty salons are set to open in the second phase from that date.

“I think it is for the best as people’s finances can only take so much and I feel quite calm about the situation and coming into contact with the public. I think that Cyprus has done a good job, much better than the UK for example,” she told the Sunday Mail.

Maskell has ensured that all protective measures will be in place for her staff and clients; her stylists will wear masks, disposable aprons and gloves, utilise single use disposal towels, and all equipment will be sterilised.

In addition, all chairs, floors and work surfaces will be regularly sprayed with antiseptic, she said. There will also be plenty of hand sanitizer available in the salon. Clients will be asked to wear masks, or if they don’t have one, the salon will provide them with a disposable one, she said.

The business owner will have lost thousands in revenue by the time she reopens, and, along with some of her stylists, has yet to receive any payout from the government’s business support plan.

“Many people have dipped into savings, but I know lots of hairdressers and beauticians that don’t have this luxury and they have been trying to live without any money and no income,” she said.

Although some public sector workers, who were on full pay during the worst of the lockdown, have not been too pleased about returning to work, one woman Katerina Charalambous said: “I feel great, finally,” about going back to work.

Being a mother of two children, however, she said she and her husband will have to alternate the days they work from the office as nursery schools will remain closed for the next month. Parents with children are currently allowed to work from home and if one must stop work due to the lockdown measures they are given a stipend for special leave. Charalambous said she “can’t wait for the nursery schools to open again.”

Schools will only open on May 11 for final-year students, which means not only are many parents still forced to stay home but teachers are still engaged in the state’s distance learning efforts.

Primary teacher Stella Andreou told the Sunday Mail she was glad the government took the measure when it did, and she currently thinks the distance-learning is adequate, though many parents do not agree.

“Of course, I am waiting to see how things will develop in the coming weeks, and if schools end up opening, strict protocols will need to be enacted,” she said.

She added that her husband, who works in the sporting sector, was still waiting to see when he can return to work as he is currently on the government plan to received 60 per cent of his salary for a temporary suspension, one of the earliest lockdown decisions taken by the government.

Regarding the freedom of movement, which will rise to three SMS outings per day, Andreou said: “I wish there was more freedom and trust in the consciences of each person to take the appropriate measures.”

Stephanie Efthymiou, a semi-government employee, said she would continue to work from home, as per her company guidelines, because their office is crowded. She added that she she would like to go back to the office and see her co-workers, and after work see her friends, but having a mother who is elderly, makes her feel ‘guilty’ about wanting to leave the house. Efthymiou said she wants to meet with people, but she is still a little worried about catching the virus and giving it to family members.

Another concerned employee in Paphos said: “I work in a shop and we have been told we have to go back to work on Monday, but I think this is too early. Cyprus should have waited another couple of weeks with the lockdown to try and get the numbers of new Covid19 cases down to zero.”

She added that she understood life has to get back to some sort of normalcy, but that you cannot put a price on health. “I know of people that have had this terrible virus and it’s so worrying. I have a family and will have to go home to them every day after work and I will be worrying for myself and them.”

The shop assistant said that she had bought a stash of face masks and gloves and plans to wear them daily. “I also have hand sanitzers, one in my bag, one in my car and my boss will supply some at work as well. I don’t know yet what measures he will take inside the shop, but he has assured us that all protocols will be followed,” she said.

She also added that the lockdown had given people a unique chance to reflect on what was important in life. “Yes we need money to live but people, family and friends and our health, are the most important things, I think most people feel that now.”

In the media sector, which has seen journalists tied to their desks from home, one reporter said: “I am very happy, we are going back to work. Because the most difficult thing during lockdown was trying to coordinate an entire newsroom online. We all need to go back to our daily lives and that includes our work lives as well.”

 



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