Employees deemed “essential” to operations at the BAE Systems Submarines facility in Barrow are starting to return to the site.

As previously reported by in-Cumbria, BAE Systems started the huge task of releasing the vast majority of its 9,500 workers from the site on Monday afternoon in response to the Government’s social distancing guidelines.

The company said it would take 48 hours to “reconfigure” the site to ensure key employees could undertake their work while staying at least two metres apart.

Those working on Astute Boat Four along with those deemed “essential” to maintaining it’s the facility’s safe operation have remained on site, with others due to return on Wednesday following the workplace assessments.

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

In a communication to staff, BAE Systems said: “We understand you will have concerns about returning to work, but we’d like to reassure you that we are taking all necessary precautions to protect your health and safety.

“Following guidance, we are now reconfiguring areas of our site and introducing new protocols and revised ways of working in line with the Government’s social distancing guidelines.

“To ensure we have the appropriate safeguards in place, and that we are minimising the risks to employees, we will introduce enhanced PPE across key build activities.

“We’ll also reduce the number of employees in office environments, re-allocate hand sanitisers to increase the number available in those areas where essential personnel will be working and continue to clean facilities to the appropriate standards.

“Staggered breaks will be introduced to minimise the number of people in mess facilities. In between breaks these areas will be thoroughly cleaned.”

Union representatives are understood to be in contact with shipyard bosses to represent workers’ views about the announcement.

BAE Systems has also stressed that employees should not return to work unless told to do so.

Thousands of workers – including around 500 apprentices, trainees and graduates – were told to leave the site on Monday until further notice. Those undertaking courses are expected to continue their studies at home.

Others have been told to stay away and work from home.

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

The release of employees on Monday took place just a few hours before Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tough new restrictions on people’s movement in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

Among them was an order to only travel to work if "absolutely necessary".