I'm not a key worker but my company is still forcing me to commute in

‘It’s going to be OK.’

This is my new 8am mantra as I board an alarmingly busy Victoria line train at Brixton.

By this point I have already taken a 10-minute bus ride to the station, but something about heading underground makes my journey during lockdown feel 100 times worse.  

If I had it my way, I wouldn’t be going in, but my company is forcing me to make the trip into the office – even though it goes against the advice of the British Government. 

I work in the travel sector and my workload has depleted to the extent that I spend the days in the office twiddling my thumbs. Yet our head office, which is based in South Korea, is stopping us from shutting down. 

They’ve told us we have to go in as we have certain systems that can only be accessed from our offices, but none of it applies to what I actually do as the entire UK operation of my company has closed. 

I’m both angry and baffled that they aren’t following government guidelines. It’s as if they don’t understand the magnitude of what is happening. I should not be out getting the Tube when I am not a key worker. 

I applaud the government on everything they have done so far to make things as comfortable as possible in this highly uncomfortable situation, but the mixed messages are not only confusing for me, evidently they are just as confusing for my employer.

I have sent a detailed email to my manager, outlining the guidance from Number 10, as well as my personal reservations, but it has fallen on deaf ears.

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His response is always that he’s monitoring the situation and feeding back to head office.

He is burying his head in the sand, and when I speak to colleagues who have been at the company for a longer time, they say that head office will never let us work from home.

It feels really strange that this is happening, when the company would benefit from either temporarily laying us off or allowing us to work from home.

A colleague was off with flu symptoms just last week and was expected back at work without any quarantine period.

The only reason I am not taking a stand is that I am still in my probation period and terrified of being fired. I don’t want to rock the boat too much, but I know what my company is doing is wrong. 

Until it is made a legal duty for all non-essential work to be made redundant, I fear I will be making this commute many more times over the next 12 weeks

It’s not necessarily my own health that I’m worried about, but the wider picture.

I live with my boyfriend who has been forced into his own personal lockdown. When at home, we are both doing everything to socially distance ourselves from others – our Friday night jaunt to the pub has been replaced by a Zoom conference with friends and a bottle of wine on the sofa.

But all this seems pointless as no matter how distant I remain in my personal life, I am still forced to be in close proximity to strangers on my daily commute. It fills me with fear, because I’m being prevented from protecting myself and my loved ones.

My partner is definitely concerned that I am still travelling.

He has asked me to request Ubers into work and back, and asks me almost hourly whether they have let us work from home yet. But it’s not just him – we have a few WhatsApp groups with friends, my mother and his mother, and everyone is in disbelief that I am still making my daily commute.

I am being as cautious as I can be and maintaining good hygiene (singing songs while washing hands etc.), but the possibility that I might contract coronavirus and give it to my partner is always in the back of my mind.

I am holding onto hope that this will somehow all just go away.

Maybe it will magically disappear, or a miracle cure will be rolled out. Maybe I’m just dreaming.

For now, without defining what can and can’t stay open, companies like mine will continue to operate during relaxed guidelines. There is also no concrete answer on how the government will enforce such measures – therefore there is no real reason for these companies to shut, because there are no repercussions.

I urge the prime minister to give clear guidance to businesses on what is classified as essential work, as I fear my company is still jumping through loopholes.

Until it is made a legal duty for all non-essential work to be made redundant, I fear I will be making this commute many more times over the next 12 weeks.

And by doing so, putting myself, my partner and anyone in my vicinity at risk.

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