‘Work from home if you can’ – government tightens restrictions

House of Commons/PA Wire/PA Images

Boris Johnson has confirmed that people should work from home if they can in a statement to the House of Commons today. He also announced that retail and hospitality staff will be required to wear face masks among a series of tighter restrictions designed to curb rising coronavirus infection rates.

We are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so” – PM

The prime minister said: “This is the moment where we must act. If we can curb the number of daily infections… we can save lives, protect the NHS and shelter the economy. A stitch in time saves nine.”

He explained: “We are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces.”

Johnson added that people should assume the new rules will stay in force for six months.

It follows weeks of the government urging people back to the workplace and comes as the coronavirus alert level was upgraded from three to four, meaning a high or rising level of virus transmission.

Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser, yesterday said the number of coronavirus cases in the UK is currently doubling around every seven days warning that, if that continues, there could be as much as 50,000 cases per day by mid-October.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said: “With home working likely to be the default for many for another six months, employers must recognise that isolation and anxiety could become an issue for some of their workers. To counter this, they should ensure managers are regularly checking in with their teams, are asking about their wellbeing and signposting to support services where necessary.

“It is also inevitable that these measures will further restrict business activity, particularly in sectors such as leisure, hospitality and transport. This is why there is a very strong case for the government to consider extending the furlough scheme – but with a focus on supporting the hardest hit sectors.”

The prime minister also confirmed that from Thursday, pubs and restaurants will have to close at 10:00pm, a further blow for the struggling hospitality sector.

Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, said this morning that there was evidence that early closing had brought benefits in local areas where it had already been in place.

Speaking about the tightening of Covid-19 restrictions to Sky News, he said there would be a “shift in emphasis” and that “if it is possible for people to work from home, they should do so”.

He added: “They are reluctant steps that we’re taking, but they’re absolutely necessary because as we were reminded yesterday and as you’ve been reporting, the rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, therefore we need to act.”

Andy Wood, chief executive of brewery Adnams, speaking to the Today programme on Radio 4, said the hospitality industry had taken health precautions seriously and that it was “incongrouous” that it was being singled out.

This morning, Whitbread announced it is cutting up to 6,000 jobs. The hotel and restaurant chain, which owns Premier Inn, is cutting its workforce by 18%.

Chief executive Alison Brittain said: “With demand for travel remaining subdued, we are now having to make some very difficult decisions, and it is with great regret that today we are announcing our intention to enter into a consultation process that could result in up to 6,000 redundancies in the UK, of which it is hoped that a significant proportion can be achieved voluntarily.”

Yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock announced that informal childcare will be allowed to continue. Inter-household mixing is currently banned in parts of the North West, North East, Bolton and Leicester. But from today, care bubbles can form to allow families to share caring responsibilities with another household.

The government said that previously the restrictions affected the ability of essential workers, such as NHS front-line staff, to do their job. The introduction of care bubbles will allow informal childcare arrangements to continue with another household. Exemptions for registered childcare already exists.

Hancock said: “I have listened to concerns that have been raised around the ban on interhousehold mixing in place for local areas of intervention, and have now introduced a provision for those looking after children under the age of 14. Informal care can also continue for vulnerable adults. I truly sympathise with everyone who lost those vital extra hands to care for a child or loved one, and I hope that this eases their burden.”

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