BAE Systems is undertaking the huge task of releasing non-essential workers from its submarine facility in Barrow in response to the Government’s social distancing guidelines.

The move – which affects around 9,500 employees and contractors – will see only “essential personnel” remain at the site after the Government ramped up calls for people to stay away from each other to curb the spread of covid-19.

BAE Systems stressed the site would not be shutting down given the Astute and Dreadnought submarine programmes being delivered there were “of strategic national importance to the UK's defence”.

In a circular sent to staff and seen by The Mail, the company thanked workers for their support in during what it described as an “extremely difficult time”, saying it would take 48 hours to “reconfigure” the site to ensure those who stay can continue to work while staying at least two metres apart.

Those working on Astute Boat Four will remain on site, along with those deemed “essential” to maintaining it’s the facility’s safe operation.

Some workers – including around 500 apprentices, trainees and graduates – were being told on Monday afternoon to leave the site until further notice, while others are to leave and work from home.

The remainder told to leave are set to return on Wednesday once a review of working assessments is carried out to ensure work could be undertaken while adhering to the Government guidelines.

All employees have been urged to keep abreast of developments on BAE Systems communications channels, which include an App.

A spokesman said: “The health and safety of our people is paramount, and we thank our employees for their continued support during these unprecedented times.

“Our immediate priority is to reconfigure our business so that only essential personnel are required on site to support the delivery of critical operations, which are of strategic importance to the UK’s defence.

"To support this, we started a controlled release of employees from our Barrow site this afternoon.”

The moves comes after Sellafield Limited ordered the vast majority of its employees – along with contractors – to stay away from its main site and satellite offices and to work from home.

Sellafield Ltd has 8,935 direct employees working in West Cumbria – primarily based at the Sellafield site – and hundreds more contractors.

Tyre manufacturing giant Pirelli shut down its Carlisle factory on Monday in a bid to protect its 900-strong workforce from coronavirus.

The company said the temporary shutdown was also a response to a “significant slowdown of demand in the automotive sector”.