PM says ‘go back to work if you can’ and suggests stricter rules on face coverings could be introduced

Boris Johnson Credit: Twitter/@BorisJohnson

Boris Johnson has urged people to go back to work if they can - a significant shift from the government's policy of telling people to work from home.

The PM said people should “try to lead their lives more normally” as coronavirus restrictions are eased after months of lockdown.

In an online question and answer session with the public, Mr Johnson said: “I want people to go back to work as carefully as possible. It’s very important that people should be going back to work if they can now.

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Shehab Khan has more on the PM's comments:

“I think everybody has sort of taken the ‘stay at home if you can’ – I think we should now say, well, ‘go back to work if you can’. Because I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally.

“I want to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants, and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.”

He later added that people should only return if their company is obeying the guidelines and it is safe to do so.

People wearing face masks on the London Underground Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Mr Johnson also hinted that stricter rules on wearing face coverings could be brought in.

"As we get the numbers down in the way that we have and we really stamp out outbreaks in the way that we are, I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don’t normally meet,” he said in an online question and answer session with the public.

The PM said the government is “looking at ways of making sure that people have face coverings in shops, where there is a risk of transmission.”

His comments come as Downing Street faced questions about why more Cabinet ministers are not wearing face coverings - after new figures suggested the majority of Britons are covering up while in public.

Fresh data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that 52% of adults in Britain had worn a face covering when leaving their home in the final week of June, up from 43% on the week before.

Regardless of whether they had worn a face covering previously, 58% of the 1,788 adults quizzed between July 2-5 said they were very or fairly likely to wear one in the next seven days.

The level of usage provoked further questions for Number 10 about why so few of the Government’s leading figures had been spotted wearing a face covering.

Boris Johnson appeared in public wearing a mask on Friday - tweeting images of himself with the caption: "If you’re out this weekend be sure to follow the guidelines on social distancing."

While chancellor Rishi Sunak, following his summer economic statement, was pictured serving food to customers at a Wagamama restaurant in central London without a non-surgical mask.

Rishi Sunak served food to customers in one restaurant after announcing his economic recovery plan. Credit: HM Treasury

Government recommendations as part of the “one metre-plus” guidance are that measures such as wearing a face covering should be taken if people indoors cannot keep two metres away from each other.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister, asked about ministers not donning face masks, said:

“I don’t spend my time with individual ministers but all the ministers abide by the social distancing guidance which is in place.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak greets an employee with an elbow bump during his visit to Worcester Bosch factory Credit: Phil Noble/PA

Mr Sunak has also been pictured greeting people this week by bumping elbows to avoid shaking hands.

When asked whether such a gesture was according to social distancing rules, the PM’s spokesman said: “The guidance is clear that you should stay two metres apart where you can.

“If that’s not possible, it is one metre, plus mitigation, and that mitigation has been set out in the guidance.”

Measures include 10pm curfews for hospitality businesses, including pubs and restaurants Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she had taken to wearing a face covering “all the time” and said “a lot” of her colleagues were doing the same.

The Tory MP last month tweeted a picture of herself wearing a cloth covering to mark face coverings being made mandatory on public transport.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been seen wearing a face covering while visiting a hospital, while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also wore one while attending a gallery this week.

As of Friday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has changed the rules, making it obligatory for shoppers to cover their face with a covering or similar garment in Scotland.

When asked whether ministers had considered introducing a similar rule for England, Ms Dinenage told the BBC:

“We have said face coverings in closed spaces is advised, but people can use their own discretion – but of course we will keep this under review.

“This is a topic upon which scientists tend to have rather different views so we are looking at it as new scientific studies emerge.”

The president of the Royal Society, Professor Venki Ramakrishna, has recommended that everyone should wear a face covering in public to reduce the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced no new deaths. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/PA

Meanwhile, London mayor Sadiq Khan has repeated his call for face coverings to be made compulsory in public, telling the PM in a letter that he was “disappointed and frustrated” that the government had not demanded masks be worn in “busy and enclosed public places”.

A spokesman for the PM said a face covering was “no substitute for good social distancing practices” such as staying two metres away from others.