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Coronavirus: Who is expected to work from home under new restrictions?

Boris Johnson delivered a televised address about new restrictions in England on Tuesday

Sarah Young
Wednesday 23 September 2020 07:15 BST
Boris Johnson lists new coronavirus restrictions

When the nationwide lockdown was first introduced on Monday 23 March, the government stated that if members of the public were able to work from home, then they should.

As restrictions began to lift, the reopening of non-essential retailers in June and of businesses including pubs, restaurant and hairdressers in July meant that many workers started returning to their workplaces, at the discretion of their employers.

On 1 September, prime minister Boris Johnson went on to launch a campaign encouraging everyone to return to their workplaces.

But now, just two weeks after announcing his back to work message, the government has made a U-turn by asking Britons to “work from home if you can” once more, as part of a package of new measures designed to combat the second wave of coronavirus

On Tuesday 22 September, Mr Johnson announced the implementation of new restrictions in England after the chief medical officers of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland raised the alert level for Covid-19 from three to four.

In addition to implementing a curfew on pubs and restaurants and reducing the number of guests permitted at weddings, Mr Johnson asked people to work from home where possible.

But, who do the rules affect and when will they start? Here is everything you need to know.

What are the new rules regarding working from home?

While speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson announced that from Thursday 24 September, people will be encouraged to work from home where possible.

The new restrictions come after workers were encouraged to go back to the office in August to help boost the economy.

“We will ensure that businesses can stay open in a Covid-compliant way," the prime minister said.

“However, we must take action to suppress the disease. First, we are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so."

Speaking to Sky News ahead of the prime minister’s statement, Michael Gove said there would be a “shift in emphasis” and “if it is possible for people to work from home they should do so”.

He added that the government was taking “reluctant steps” with the new measures, but insisted that they are “absolutely necessary”.

“There will be more details that the prime minister will spell out, and again, one of the points that he’ll make is that no one wants to do these things, no one wants to take these steps,” Mr Gove said.

“They are reluctant steps that we’re taking, but they are 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, and therefore we need to act."

Who will the new rules apply to?

According to Mr Johnson, anyone who is able to work from home should do so. However, he explained that the government is aware many roles cannot be performed from home and that in this instance, people should return to workplaces as long as they are following Covid-secure guidelines.

“In key public services – and in all professions where homeworking is not possible, such as construction or retail – people should continue to attend their workplaces," he said.

“And like government, this House will be free to take forward its business in a Covid-secure way, which you, Mr Speaker, have pioneered.”

During his interview with Sky News, Mr Gove echoed the prime minister’s comments, stating: “It's important to stress that there are many, many, many roles that can't be performed from home... there are people in manufacturing, construction, retail and other roles... we recognise it is simply impossible.

“That's why we have worked to ensure you can have Covid-secure workplaces.

“We need to balance the need for people to work and continue to go to school against taking steps to try and reduce the virus.”

He continued: “If we can encourage people to work from home, we will, but if people need to be in the office, we will work to make it as safe as possible.”

Why are the rules changing?

The clampdown comes after government medical chiefs raised the Covid-19 alert level.

The chief medical officers for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales raised the level from three to four, which signifies a high or rising level of transmission and requires enforced social distancing.

On Monday 21 September, the prime minister’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that if current trends continue into autumn, then by mid-October, England could face around 50,000 new cases every day.

Professor Vallance added that if more is not done to reduce the spread of Covid-19, the number of cases could increase to “10,000 next week, 20,000 the week after, 40,000 the week after that”.

“You can see that by mid-October, if that continued, you would end up with something like 50,000 cases in the middle of October per day,” he said.

What other changes has the prime minister announced?

Before Mr Johnson’s TV broadcast at 8pm on Tuesday 22 September, No 10 said the speech would be about “further ways we will confront the virus in line with the latest scientific advice, and the role everyone can continue to play in tackling the spread, including by following the social distancing guidance, wearing face coverings and washing hands regularly”.

During the address, the prime minister emphasised what people can do to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19, including continuing to practise social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing hands regularly and thoroughly.

Mr Johnson also announce that pubs, cafes and restaurants will only be allowed to operate in England up until 10pm at night, in addition to announcing that the number of attendees at weddings will be reduced from 30 to 15.

He also said that if people are found to be breaking the rule of six when socialising with friends or relatives, the fine for a first offence will be increased from £100 to £200.

Additionally, businesses in the hospitality sector will only be allowed to serve customers via table service.

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