Ghost town Britain: Commuting city workers shun the office as new lockdown is announced

Office staff largely worked from home today as Britain’s third national lockdown began to clamp shut, but tradesmen, key workers and essential businesses continued to travel in to their jobs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last night the restrictions, which will come in tomorrow, would allow the virus to be contained and the NHS protected.

His call to arms was largely obeyed by city staff who stayed away from travel, but people including builders and cafe workers still journeyed to their work as permitted under the new rules.

It meant while huge empty business blocks created a ghost town atmosphere across the country, some travel routes appeared relatively busy.

And traffic data showed very little movement from yesterday, despite Mr Johnson’s dramatic speech last night. 

It came despite big business including Amazon, Goldman Sachs and the London Stock Exchange to stay home unless they were essential staff.

National Portrait Gallery in London the morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech

National Portrait Gallery in London the morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech

National Portrait Gallery in London the morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech

Empty streets in Manchester on the first day after the new COVID-19 lockdown was announced

Empty streets in Manchester on the first day after the new COVID-19 lockdown was announced

Empty streets in Manchester on the first day after the new COVID-19 lockdown was announced

The Plymouth city centre was completely absent of shoppers after the PM's announcement

The Plymouth city centre was completely absent of shoppers after the PM's announcement

The Plymouth city centre was completely absent of shoppers after the PM’s announcement

The quiet streets of Nottingham this morning as England goes into another full lockdown

The quiet streets of Nottingham this morning as England goes into another full lockdown

The quiet streets of Nottingham this morning as England goes into another full lockdown

New Street train station in Birmingham at 8.47am the morning today after the PM's address

New Street train station in Birmingham at 8.47am the morning today after the PM's address

New Street train station in Birmingham at 8.47am the morning today after the PM’s address

Vehicles on the M4 at Langley in Berkshire the morning showed travel was still going on

Vehicles on the M4 at Langley in Berkshire the morning showed travel was still going on

Vehicles on the M4 at Langley in Berkshire the morning showed travel was still going on

A London underground tube train looked relatively busy in rush hour despite home work plea

A London underground tube train looked relatively busy in rush hour despite home work plea

A London underground tube train looked relatively busy in rush hour despite home work plea

This platform in West Ham looked crowded during the trip into work on Tuesday morning

This platform in West Ham looked crowded during the trip into work on Tuesday morning

This platform in West Ham looked crowded during the trip into work on Tuesday morning

Staff at the world-famous London Stock Exchange were mostly working at home, with just a small key team allowed into offices.

It was the same with other big firms, including Standard Chartered, with those who can work at home doing so.

Goldman Sachs staff in Europe, the Middle East and Africa were all told last night by memo only key members should come in.

It said: ‘In the UK, until further notice, we will continue with our in-office essential approach announced in December.

Certain workers including tradespeople and cafe staff are allowed to carry on going to work

Certain workers including tradespeople and cafe staff are allowed to carry on going to work

Certain workers including tradespeople and cafe staff are allowed to carry on going to work

The M4 motorway near Maidenhead after the sun rose showed fewer cars on the roads

The M4 motorway near Maidenhead after the sun rose showed fewer cars on the roads

The M4 motorway near Maidenhead after the sun rose showed fewer cars on the roads

Streets across Bristol appear empty as England prepares to enter the third national lockdown

Streets across Bristol appear empty as England prepares to enter the third national lockdown

Streets across Bristol appear empty as England prepares to enter the third national lockdown

Rush hour traffic in London, Newcastle, Bristol and Birmingham showed no drop from Monday

Rush hour traffic in London, Newcastle, Bristol and Birmingham showed no drop from Monday

Rush hour traffic in London, Newcastle, Bristol and Birmingham showed no drop from Monday

‘Across the broader EMEA region, the challenges are similar with new local lockdowns continuing into January in many countries.

‘This will necessitate ongoing caution and flexibility from all of us.’

Amazon have also told staff across the world as long as they can do their jobs from home they are welcome to do so until June 30.

The Prime Minister plunged England into a national lockdown described by some as more brutal than last March on Monday in a desperate bid to keep the mutant coronavirus at bay while vaccines are rolled out. 

Just a day after he urged parents to send their children back, the PM declared in a sombre address from No10 that primary and secondary schools will be shut from today until at least February half-term, with only the vulnerable and offspring of key workers allowed to go in.

University students are being told to stay at home and study remotely, while exams will not go ahead as planned. Nurseries can stay open.

Under the the new guidance, published overnight, non-essential retail, all hospitality, gyms and swimming pools will be ordered to close across the country. 

Cafes, bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve takeaway – but in a tightening from the draconian measures last spring, they will not be allowed to serve any alcohol.

Vulnerable people are being told to shield where possible. Communal worship can continue with social distancing in place.  

The public will once again only be allowed to leave home for one of five reasons.

They are to go to work if essential, shop for necessities, exercise – allowed with one other person from another household, care for someone, or to seek medical help. 

Those who break the rules face a £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. 

The extraordinary third national squeeze will come into effect in the early hours of Wednesday after the regulations are laid today, but Mr Johnson urged the public to adopt the new rules now.

MPs will get a vote on them on Wednesday when Parliament is recalled, although there is no prospect of them being defeated. 

With his hands clasped together and seated behind a desk in Downing Street, Mr Johnson made clear there is no chance of them being lifted for at least seven weeks – and possibly longer if the vaccine rollout does not go well.

‘Our hospitals are under more pressure than at any time since the start of the pandemic. It’s clear we need to do more.. while our vaccines are rolled out,’ he said.

He said it would not be ‘possible or fair’ for exams to go ahead this summer as normal.

‘The weeks ahead will be the hardest but I really do believe that we are reaching the end of the struggle,’ he said.

The PM pledged that by mid-February the top four categories on the vaccine distribution list will have had their first jabs. 

There are 13.2million people in the top four groups on the vaccination list – care home residents and the over-80s, frontline healthcare workers, the over-70s and the clinically vulnerable. 

The new lockdown in England at a glance 

England will be put into a full national lockdown that will last until the February half term. 

According to the new rules:  

  • All primary and secondary schools will close with immediate effect
  • Classes will remain only for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. 
  • The plan is for them to reopen after the February half-term break.
  • A-Level and GCSE exams are unlikely to go ahead as planned in the summer.
  • Universities will also remain closed to students until mid-February.
  • Nurseries will remain fully open. 
  • The public should stay at home unless they need to leave for one of just five reasons: If they cannot work from home, shopping for necessities, exercise, to give care and for medical treatment or emergencies.
  • All non-essential retailers, hospitality and ‘personal care’ like hairdressers must close.
  • Restaurants and other eateries can continue to operate for takeaways and deliveries. 
  • But pubs will no longer be allowed to offer take-away alcohol sales. 
  • Children’s playgrounds will remain open. 
  • All indoor and outdoor sports venues, including golf courses, gyms, swimming pools and tennis courts must close, and team sports cannot take place, even outdoors. 
  • Elite sports like the Premier League can go on under their own schemes.

The guidance is for people who are fit and well. 

There is additional advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus and households with a possible or confirmed coronavirus infection. 

They should not attend work, school, college or university, and limit the time you spend outside the home.  The guidance says you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential.

The rules for all people in England also state:  

  • You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with or are not in a support bubble with (if you are legally permitted to form one).
  • You may exercise on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.
  • You should not meet other people you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, unless for a permitted reason.
  • Stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household.

Detailed guidance on the national lockdown:

You must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This will be put in law. The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and issue you with a fine (Fixed Penalty Notice).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

A ‘reasonable excuse’ includes:

  • Work – you can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home
  • Volunteering – you can also leave home to provide voluntary or charitable services
  • Essential activities – you can leave home to buy things at shops or obtain services. You may also leave your home to do these things on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating
  • Education and childcare – you can only leave home for education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children where they are eligible to attend. 
  • Meeting others and care – you can leave home to visit people in your support bubble ( if you are legally permitted to form one), to provide informal childcare for children under 14 as part of a childcare bubble (for example, to enable parents to work), to provide care for disabled or vulnerable people
  • Exercise – you can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble, limited to once per day, and not outside your local area 
  • Medical reasons – you can leave home for a medical reason, including to get a COVID-19 test, for medical appointments and emergencies
  • Harm and compassionate visits – you can leave home to be with someone who is giving birth, to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm (such as domestic abuse). 
  • You can also leave home to visit someone who is dying or someone in a care home (if permitted under care home guidance), hospice, or hospital, or to accompany them to a medical appointment
  • Animal welfare reasons – you can leave home for animal welfare reasons, such as to attend veterinary services for advice or treatment
  • Communal worship and life events – You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony.

There are further reasonable excuses. For example, you may leave home to fulfil legal obligations or to carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property, or where it is reasonably necessary for voting in an election or referendum.

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