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UK economy shuffles into new rules on working from home and pub times

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove in Downing Street, London, ahead of a Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Picture date: Tuesday September 15, 2020. Photo credit should read: Matt Crossick/Empics
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove. Photo: Matt Crossick/Empics

A government minister has encouraged the public to work from home where possible, in a “shift of emphasis” as the UK looks to curb rising coronavirus cases.

The comments by Michael Gove come as the government also prepares to set a new curfew for the hospitality sector, ordering pubs, restaurants, and cafes to close at 10pm.

Asked about guidance on remote working, the cabinet office minister told Sky News on Tuesday morning: “There is going to be a shift in emphasis. One of the things we are going to emphasise is that if it is possible for people to work from home then we'd encourage them to do so.

“Now it's important to stress that there are many, many, many roles which can’t be performed from home. There are people in manufacturing, in construction, in retail and in other roles where we recognise that’s simply impossible.

“That’s why we've worked to ensure you can have COVID-secure workplaces, and we need to balance the need to ensure people can continue to work, and indeed critically continue to go to school and to benefit from from education, against taking steps to try to reduce the virus.”

READ MORE: England’s chief medical officer fuels fears of second UK lockdown

It marks a radical shift in policy from official messaging in recent weeks, which had seen millions of workers encouraged to return to workplaces in a bid to revive ailing town and city centres.

Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to say more on the issue when he addresses parliament this lunchtime, and in a televised speech to the country later in the day.

He is also likely to announce hospitality venues will have to close early from Thursday, and to only offer table service. The government is reportedly weighing up further new measures, including another delay to trials of crowds returning to sports events.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, warned the curfew could have a "significant economic impact," particularly if firms had to clear the premises and close rather than simply stop trading by 10pm.

Nicholls told BBC Radio 4 revenues could take a 50% hit if firms had to shut entirely by 10pm, limiting the number of meal sittings as last food orders would have to be called at 9pm.

READ MORE: Premier Inn owner Whitbread could axe 6,000 jobs

Such a move would "wipe out a shift of jobs at the end of the evening," and Nicholls called for firms to be involved in drafting rules that could be the "difference between business viability and job losses.

Meanwhile Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, warned the curfew could spark “a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot-beds of infection.”

It comes after the UK government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance and England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty were sent out to update the country on rising infection rates in a televised address on Monday.

Whitty said ministers and society had to walk a “very difficult balance.” Too little action risked the virus becoming “out of control” and increased deaths, while the opposite could cause “damage to the economy, which can feed through to unemployment, to poverty, to deprivation.”

Vallance said an initial rise in cases among younger people had now spread to all age groups including older people, and had already begun to cause a fresh rise in hospitalisations and deaths. He said an estimated 6,000 new cases were occurring every day, and warned Britain needed, “speed,” “action,” and to do “enough” to curb cases.

Vallance added that cases had doubled in seven days, and warned if unchecked at that rate cases would reach 49,000 new infections a day by mid-October.

Rising infection rates and the likely economic impact of stricter curbs sparked alarm among investors and firms on Monday, and sent travel, bank, pub, housebuilding and other domestically focused stocks tumbling.