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‘There will be new norms’: Priti Patel says social distancing will remain and life will not go back to how it was

‘The fact is we will not go back to how we were in early March,’ home secretary tells MPs

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 29 April 2020 13:17 BST
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Priti Patel says there will be 'new norms' for British society after lockdown

Priti Patel has said life in Britain “will not go back” to how it was before the coronavirus outbreak, even after the current lockdown ends.

The home secretary said that while the government has not yet finalised plans of how restrictions will be lifted, there would be “new norms”.

Ms Patel told the Home Affairs Committee that social distancing would be expected in “every single work area” and on public transport.

“The fact is we will not go back to how we were in early March – there will be new norms that will inevitably come off the way in which social distancing is dominating our lives and has affected society,” she added.

“We would expect social distancing in every single work area, whether it’s an office or a construction site, and on public transport going forward.”

The home secretary said she was “not at liberty” to detail the potential scenarios being considered by the government, after MPs suggested that restrictions could be lifted by area, by work sector or by individual risk profiles.

“The fact testing is dramatically upscaling will have an impact in terms of giving greater public confidence to people to eventually go back to work, but even before that there’s a job to do securing workplaces,” Ms Patel added.

“To move into a new normal we as a society will have to operationalise new ways of working. “They have to be tested, employers have to embrace those, and guidance will have to come from government.”

It has set out five tests for lifting the current lockdown, including protecting NHS capacity, a “sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rate”, a decrease in the coronavirus infection rate, and sufficient testing and PPE capacity.

Social distancing would be expected in ‘every single work area’ (Getty)

The final test, which has not yet been met, is that the government must be “confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelm the NHS”.

Police leaders have raised concerns with the government that a sudden lifting of restrictions could cause public disorder and a potential crime wave if people are allowed to pile into pubs and bars.

Matthew Rycroft, the new Home Office permanent secretary, said the concerns had been “made clear” and were being taken forward in government-wide discussions over potential scenarios.

A senior officer previously told The Independent the UK must prepare for a more “volatile and agitated society” after lockdown.

With the restrictions extended until at least 7 May, there are concerns about the effect of unemployment, mental health issues, abuse inside homes and a general need for “release”.

“If there are challenges economically, there is sometimes a rise in crime and disorder,” Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths warned.

Ms Patel paid tribute to the efforts of police officers during the outbreak, which she said had prompted “evolution” by criminals.

“Drug dealers are changing their model every single day,” she added. “They’re buying taxis, they’re using different modes of transport.”

But the home secretary said lockdown had made the “environment challenging” for criminals and that “extraordinary” quantities of drugs have been seized.

Ms Patel was appointed as home secretary by Boris Johnson in July, but had only appeared before the Home Affairs Committee once before Wednesday.

A row between Ms Cooper and the home secretary became public earlier this month, over claims Ms Patel had refused to give evidence to MPs on coronavirus.

Ms Patel accused Ms Cooper of taking an “adversarial” approach by demanding that she appeared rather than officials, but the chair called her attendance “essential” for accountability.

Ms Patel said she was “committed to ensuring the Home Office is better open to scrutiny and transparency”.

The home secretary faced personal scrutiny over bullying allegations following the resignation of former permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit his post in February while alleging that he had been the victim of “a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign”.

A Cabinet Office investigation was launched over whether Ms Patel had breached the ministerial code, and Sir Philip has lodged an employment tribunal claim for unfair dismissal.

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