More working from home and delay in fans returning to sport to be announced by PM
People should work from home if they can, government ministers have said, ahead of Boris Johnson’s televised address tonight over further restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be ordered to close by 10pm each night from Thursday under tough restrictions set to be announced by Boris Johnson in a bid to curb the rapid rise.
Downing Street has confirmed that measure, but the prime minister will use an 8pm televised address to the nation tonight (Tuesday, September 22) to outline further measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.
He will also speak in the House of Commons at 12.30pm.
Mr Johnson will emphasise the need for people to follow social-distancing guidance, wear face coverings and wash their hands regularly, and will urge people to work from home where it does not hurt businesses.
Cabinet office minister Michael Gove said there was going to be a “shift in emphasis” on the government’s advice about working from home, telling Sky News: “If it is possible for people to work from home then we would encourage them to do so.”
He said the government was taking “reluctant steps” with the new coronavirus measures, but added that they are “absolutely necessary”.
“There will be more details that the prime minister will spell out, and again, one of the points that he’ll make is that no one wants to do these things, no one wants to take these steps.
“They are reluctant steps that we’re taking, but they are absolutely necessary.
“Because as we were reminded yesterday, and as you’ve been reporting, the rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, and therefore we need to act.”
He told BBC Breakfast: “If people can work from home, they should.
“But I stress that it’s very important that those people whose jobs require them to be in a specific workplace do so.”
He added it was not a case of “revisiting the days at the beginning of our response to this virus” as “workplaces are safer”, adding: “But one of the risks that we have to face is that social mixing overall contributes to the spread of the virus.
“So as much as we can restrain that as possible at this stage, the better for all of us and for public health.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are stressing that if it is safe to work in your workplace, if you are in a Covid secure workplace, then you should be there if your job requires it.
“But, if you can work from home you should.”
Asked if that was a change, Mr Gove said “yes”.
Mr Gove agreed the government was encouraging more people to work from home.
Mr Gove was unable to say how long the new coronavirus measures are expected to last.
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.
The weekend saw 1,000 Norwich City fans allowed into Carrow Road to see the Canaries’ 2-2 draw with Preston, but the announcement tonight could affect future games.
The televised address comes after the government’s chief scientific and medical advisers painted a grim picture of how 200 or more people in the UK could die each day by mid-November if the current rate of infection is not halted.
Sir Patrick Vallance, speaking alongside Professor Chris Whitty on Monday, said the “vast majority of the population remain susceptible” to catching coronavirus and the current situation required swift action to bring the case numbers down.
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”.
Mr Johnson will chair meetings of cabinet and the Cobra emergency committee - including the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - today before the televised address.
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.”
The fresh restrictions sparked anger from the hospitality sector - which also restricts them to table service only - with Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, describing them as “another crushing blow” for many businesses.
“A hard close time is bad for business and bad for controlling the virus - we need to allow time for people to disperse over a longer period,” she said.
“Table service has been widely adopted in some parts of the sector since reopening but it is not necessary across all businesses, such as coffee shops.
“It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when government data shows that just 5pc of infections out of the home are related to hospitality.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the new rules would “feel like a step backwards”, and urged the government to fix the track and trace system and help the hospitality sector.
In mid-September, around 3,000 new cases were recorded every day in the UK and if the growth continued unabated that would result in 50,000 cases by the middle of October, Sir Patrick said.
He warned the “50,000 cases per day would be expected to lead a month later, so the middle of November, say, to 200-plus deaths per day”.
“The challenge therefore is to make sure the doubling time does not stay at seven days.”
Prof Whitty suggested reducing social contacts was a key way to curb the spread but acknowledged there was a balance to be struck in terms of protecting the economy.
“Ministers making decisions - and all of society - have to walk this very difficult balance,” he said.
“If we do too little, this virus will go out of control and you will get significant numbers of increased direct and indirect deaths.
“But if we go too far the other way, then we can cause damage to the economy which can feed through to unemployment, to poverty, to deprivation - all of which have long-term health effects, so we need always to keep these two sides in mind.”
He suggested that science would eventually “ride to our rescue”, but “in this period of the next six months, I think we have to realise that we have to take this, collectively, very seriously”.
In Parliament on Monday, North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker highlighted how infections in his constituency - and across Norfolk - were among the lowest in the country.
The low rates in Norfolk had prompted calls from businesses and MPs - backed by this newspaper - for the government to consider excluding the county from any blanket lockdown restrictions.
He said: “My constituency of North Norfolk and widely in Norfolk has seen some of the lowest infection rates in the entire country and that is thanks to the dedication and sacrifice that many people have made in my area.
“Can you assure me that any further major national restrictions will absolutely reflect the low levels of infections in constituencies like mine?”
The health secretary said further national and local restrictions was a “critical balance to get right.”
Mr Hancock added: “My honourable friend makes an important point. He actually represents the oldest constituency in the country and so this is an important matter for him and his constituents.
“It comes back to this central point that the balance between the measures we take nationally and the measures we take locally, according to local rates of infection, is a critical balance to get right.”
Two groups of health experts have written separate letters to the UK’s chief medical officers expressing polarising views on the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
One group of doctors and academics has expressed concern over the government’s suppression strategy, calling for targeted measures such as segmentation and shielding of vulnerable groups to be adopted instead of local or national lockdowns.
Meanwhile another group of experts has denounced the idea of a targeted approach of shielding the vulnerable until “herd immunity” had developed, saying there were no examples of this working in any country.
The comments from the opposing groups came in open letters addressed to the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and Sir Patrick.
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