Sir Mark Sedwill has told civil servants they “all have a role to play” in ensuring safety in the workplace when lockdown restrictions are eased, as it emerged the cabinet secretary had tested positive for coronavirus in April.
Sedwill, who is also head of the civil service, tested positive for Covid-19 in April after experiencing mild symptoms of the virus. He is understood to have been ill around the same time as the prime minister, who announced he had tested positive for coronavirus in late March before being admitted to hospital on 5 April.
Sedwill continued to lead the government’s response to the outbreak while self isolating.
And in an internal email this morning, the cab sec praised the “extraordinary commitment and creativity” civil servants had displayed in tackling the crisis.
“Frontline staff from jobcentres to prisons have exemplified the timeless values of public service throughout. I also recognise the leadership you have shown in our communities as our fellow citizens, especially the vulnerable, have sought to cope with the stresses of the lockdown,” he wrote.
Yesterday evening Boris Johnson announced the “first steps” towards lifting the lockdown measures, which include easing some of the restrictions on outdoor exercise and encouraging people who have not been working because they cannot do their jobs from home to return to work.
Sedwill added this morning: “As civil servants, just as we led our fellow citizens into the lockdown, we must now lead them through it. We should all be working, whether at home, in the workplace or a combination of the two.”
The cab sec said that like other members of the public, civil servants should “flex their working hours and use alternative, preferably healthier, means of transport wherever possible” to minimise pressure on public transport.
“If you have to use public transport, maintain social distancing and consider a face covering. The civil service already operates the cycle-to-work scheme for those who live close enough to their workplace to cycle, and I encourage you to take advantage of it,” he added.
For those attending work physically, he added: “We all have a role to play in ensuring that our workplaces are Covid-secure. If you, or a member of your household, has symptoms, you should all isolate and be tested without delay.”
And he implored civil servants to install the NHS track-and-trace app once it becomes available later this month. The app is currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight.
“It is vital to identifying and responding to individual outbreaks of the disease,” Sedwill said.
Thanking civil servants for their “immense effort in the initial phases of this crisis”, Sedwill said they must “keep up the effort” in the coming weeks and months.
“The good news is that the lockdown has worked. All the data shows that we are past the peak,” Sedwill said.
But he added that people were still dying from the virus and that the five tests the government set out before imposing the lockdown measures to determine when they could be lifted had not yet been met.
"Keep at it. Our citizens and our country depend on us."