Covid UK: Boris Johnson enforced working from home rules will be scrapped within weeks

Enforced working from home will be scrapped within weeks after Boris Johnson vowed to axe Covid lockdown rules that had turned cities across England into ghost towns.

The Prime Minister confirmed tonight that the drastic legal requirement introduced in March last year that left millions in the spare room or at the kitchen table will be abandoned.

But the move to be taken when Step Four of the roadmap out of lockdown comes into force – most likely on July 19 – will allow employers to choose the pace at which their employers come back to work.

There will also be fresh guidance on how to operate a safe workplace that will be based on Health and Safety Executive (HSE) rules from before the pandemic.

The news will be a boost for city retailers who have suffered from a lack of footfall, and companies with large, expensive premises which have lain empty for months at great expense. 

But it remains to be seen how many firms – and staff – will want to return to full-time workplace life and the financial and time costs that come with it. 

Mr Johnson told the nation tonight: ‘It will no longer be necessary for Government to insist people to work from home. So employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace.’ 

However questions remain over how quickly the changes can come into effect, with people still forced to self-isolate if ‘pinged’ by NHS test and trace, even if they have been double jabbed. 

The Prime Minister confirmed tonight that the drastic legal requirement introduced in March last year that left millions in the spare room or at the kitchen table will be abandoned

The Prime Minister confirmed tonight that the drastic legal requirement introduced in March last year that left millions in the spare room or at the kitchen table will be abandoned

The Prime Minister confirmed tonight that the drastic legal requirement introduced in March last year that left millions in the spare room or at the kitchen table will be abandoned

The news will be a boost for city retailers who have suffered from a lack of footfall, and companies with large, expensive premises which have lain empty for months at great expense.

The news will be a boost for city retailers who have suffered from a lack of footfall, and companies with large, expensive premises which have lain empty for months at great expense.

The news will be a boost for city retailers who have suffered from a lack of footfall, and companies with large, expensive premises which have lain empty for months at great expense.

But it remains to be seen how many firms - and staff - will want to return to full-time workplace life and the financial and time costs that come with it.

But it remains to be seen how many firms - and staff - will want to return to full-time workplace life and the financial and time costs that come with it.

But it remains to be seen how many firms – and staff – will want to return to full-time workplace life and the financial and time costs that come with it.

Majority of Brits want masks to stay 

The majority of people want face masks to remain compulsory on public transport and in shops beyond this month, a poll has suggested.

Seven in every 10 people (71 per cent) agreed that face masks should continue to be mandatory on public transport for a further period of time once restrictions are lifted, according to the YouGov survey of 2,749 British adults.

Roughly one in five (21 per cent) said masks should not be compulsory.

The survey also found that 66 per cent of those polled said face masks should continue to be mandatory in shops and some enclosed public places – while 27 per cent disagreed.

It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at a press conference that all legal coronavirus restrictions including mask-wearing, social distancing and nightclub closures will end at Step 4 of the Government’s plan to ease England’s lockdown, which is expected to be on July 19.

According to the poll, survey respondents aged over 65 were more likely to want face masks on public transport (80 per cent) than those aged 18-24 (59 per cent).

There were similar attitudes among the respective age groups when it came to such restrictions in shops – with 78 per cent of people aged over 65 wanting face masks to continue, compared with 57 per cent of those aged 18-24.

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Big businesses including accountancy giant Deloitte are adopting ‘hybrid models’ for staff, allowing them to split time between their office and home working.

The Government also recently introduced carnet train season tickets that allow people to work from the office a few days per week and be at home the rest.

But in a blow to businesses, especially pubs and restaurants, the Prime Minister said tonight that while he intends to alter quarantine rules for the twice vaccinated it will not happen on July 19 or whenever Step Four starts.

Business leaders have called for the rule to be axed, with many hospitality venues being crippled by a shortage of staff because when one is forced to isolate many others are who worked in close proximity with them.

Speaking to the nation tonight Mr Johnson said: ‘We will continue from Step Four to manage the virus with a test trace and isolate system that is proportionate to the pandemic.

‘You will have to self isolate if you test positive or are told to do so by NHS test and trace. But we are looking to move to a different regime for fully vaccinated contacts of those testing positive and also for children.’ 

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth questioned the lack of talk of measures to improve the safety of workplaces.

Responding to a statement in the Commons by Sajid Javid at the same time as the press conference, he said: ‘Masks are effective because we know the virus is airborne.

‘He could mitigate further Covid risks by insisting on ventilation standards in premises and crowded buildings. He could offer grants for air filtration systems. Instead all we get is more advice.

‘Ventilation in buildings and grants to support air filtration systems don’t restrict anyone’s freedoms.’

Pubs and restaurants already hit by severe labour shortages are being forced to close and thousands of staff sent home due to the NHS Covid app repeatedly telling them to self-isolate amid soaring case numbers – with bosses demanding a ‘test and release’ scheme instead.

It comes as a lobby group of 50 business leaders, London First, has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to beg that working from home be ‘no longer the default’. 

The letter, seen by The Times, read: ‘At this critical moment, we believe that it is essential that the government is unambiguous in its communications that when the ”stage four” restrictions lift, public transport is safe, offices are safe, and work-from-home is no longer the default.

‘Employers can then move forward with plans for new ways of working, considering the needs of their staff, clients and customers.’

Signatories of the letter include BT CEO Philip Jansen and the chief executive of Capita Jonathan Lewis.

Tamzen Isacsson, chief executive of the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) said:

The UK recorded another 24,248 cases of Covid and a further 15 deaths yesterday

The UK recorded another 24,248 cases of Covid and a further 15 deaths yesterday

The UK recorded another 24,248 cases of Covid and a further 15 deaths yesterday

‘There will be no rush back to the office for our sector as we have always worked remotely or on client site and firms will continue to stagger staff visits to the office through the summer. 

‘Additionally, many firms have also reduced their available office space already. Given the current trends of higher infection rates there will inevitably be more disruption to staff who will have to self-isolate, not be able to travel and may have to support children isolating from school and it’s important all businesses encourage staff to adhere to the guidelines.’

Deloitte is the latest of several companies to announce plans for hybrid working, following Asda, Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC Banks, as well as call-centre operator Capita and British Gas owner Centrica.

Asda became the latest firm to announce that it will allow head office staff to work from home on a permanent basis. The supermarket said it will introduce a hybrid model for the around 4,000 employees at its two main bases in Leeds and Leicester.

Employees will be able to work from any location best suited to their job. Bosses said there will be no set number of days staff will be expected in the office but they should talk to their managers to ‘strike the right balance between home and office working, whilst ensuring this is led by the needs of the business’.

Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB union, said: ‘The Prime Minister’s so called ”freedom day” plans are not addressing the freedom of workers to be free from floating germs or from being safe at work.

‘It is difficult to see how making workers more scared to go into workplaces or putting them under greater risk of being ill is any sense a civil right that he should be thanked for. This pandemic isn’t over and we can’t go back to business as usual.’

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