People encouraged to work from home again as Johnson battles coronavirus rise

Boris Johnson has been forced to abandon his drive to get Britons back to the workplace as he prepares to announce new restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be ordered to close by 10pm each night from Thursday, a move which has angered a hospitality industry already battered by the pandemic.

The Prime Minister will face MPs, including Tories who are uneasy about the way the Government has imposed restrictions, before an address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

He will outline other measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, which will also restrict the hospitality sector to table service only.

Mr Johnson will emphasise the need for people to follow social-distancing guidance, wear face coverings and wash their hands regularly.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove accepted that the Government’s call for people to return to the workplace, a measure seen as critical for the survival of cafes and other businesses which rely on commuters and office workers, had been dropped.

He said there was a “shift in emphasis”, telling Sky News: “If it is possible for people to work from home then we would encourage them to do so.”

According to The Daily Telegraph, other potential measures being considered include a further delay to trials of spectators returning to professional sport events and the closure of indoor concert venues.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, describing the new restrictions as “another crushing blow” for many businesses.

“It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when Government data shows that just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality,” she said.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, warned the measures could trigger “a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot-beds of infection, attended by frustrated young people denied access to safe and legitimate night-time hospitality venues”.

In the latest sign of the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the industry, up to 6,000 jobs are being axed at Premier Inn owner Whitbread.

The group said the cuts would impact 18% of the total workforce across its hotel and restaurant brands, which also includes the Beefeater pubs and Brewers Fayre chains.

The new measures come after the Government’s chief scientific and medical advisers painted a grim picture of how there could be 50,000 cases a day by mid-October with a daily death toll of 200 or more by mid-November if the current growth in the rate of infection is not halted.

The UK’s four chief medical officers then recommended raising the Covid alert level from three to four, the second highest, indicating the “epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially”.

An empty train on the Victoria Line platform at King’s Cross station (Yui Mok/PA)
An empty train on the Victoria Line platform at King’s Cross station (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Johnson will chair meetings of Cabinet and the Cobra emergency committee, including the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on Tuesday before a televised address at 8pm.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “No-one underestimates the challenges the new measures will pose to many individuals and businesses.

“We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus and protect the NHS.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce further coronavirus measures for Scotland after the Cobra meeting on Tuesday morning.

Across Northern Ireland and certain areas of Wales, new measures placing restrictions on households gathering indoors will come into force from 6pm on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister faces a balancing act between ministers calling for tougher measures to control the virus and those who want to keep the economy as open as possible to protect jobs and livelihoods.

And he faces backbench concerns about the restrictions and the way Parliament has been sidelined in announcing changes.

In the Commons on Monday Tory MP Pauline Latham urged Health Secretary Matt Hancock to tell the Prime Minister “that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House”.