People encouraged to work from home as coronavirus restrictions tightened amid rise in cases

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

People are being urged to work from home where possible in England, just weeks after the government was urging employees to return to the office.

The announcement will be a blow for cafes and shops which rely on the spending of office workers, but it comes as Boris Johnson prepares to announce new restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus which has been increasing in recent weeks.

Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be ordered to close by 10pm each night from Thursday, a move which has angered a hospitality industry already battered by the pandemic.

The prime minister will face MPs, including Tories who are uneasy about the way the Government has imposed restrictions, before an address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

He will outline other measures to stop the spread of Covid-19, which will also restrict the hospitality sector to table service only.

Mr Johnson will emphasise the need for people to follow social-distancing guidance, wear face coverings and wash their hands regularly.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove accepted that the government’s call for people to return to the workplace, a measure seen as critical for the survival of cafes and other businesses which rely on commuters and office workers, had been dropped.

"If people can work from home, they should," Mr Gove told ITV News, confirming the change in stance for England.

The Conservative MP said that for those who were unable to work from home, "workplaces are much safer environments as a result of the Covid-secure guidelines that have been developed over the last few months".

Mr Gove also confirmed that the phased return of spectators into sporting venues in England from October 1 will also be put on hold because of the recent rise in coronavirus cases.

A number of pilot test events, in which capacities have been capped at 1,000 irrespective of the size of grounds, have taken place and it was hoped stadiums would be allowed to welcome more fans from the start of next month.

It comes after the UK’s chief medical officers recommended on Monday that the Covid-19 alert level should be moved from three to four, which means the transmission of the virus is “high or rising exponentially”.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, describing the new restrictions for pubs, bars and restaurants as “another crushing blow” for many businesses.

“It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when government data shows that just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality,” she said.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, warned the measures could trigger “a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot-beds of infection, attended by frustrated young people denied access to safe and legitimate night-time hospitality venues”.

However, Mr Gove said the government had brought in an earlier closing time for pubs and bars in England, not to be a "killjoy" but because a "slightly earlier closure limits social mixing and helps us - as part of a range of measures - in dealing with the virus".

In the latest sign of the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the industry, up to 6,000 jobs are being axed at Premier Inn owner Whitbread.

The group said the cuts would impact 18% of the total workforce across its hotel and restaurant brands, which also includes the Beefeater pubs and Brewers Fayre chains.

The new measures come after the government’s chief scientific and medical advisers painted a grim picture of how there could be 50,000 cases a day by mid-October with a daily death toll of 200 or more by mid-November if the current growth in the rate of infection is not halted.

An empty train on the Victoria Line platform at King’s Cross station Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Mr Johnson will chair meetings of Cabinet and the Cobra emergency committee, including the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on Tuesday before a televised address at 8pm.

The prime minister will also make a statement in the House of Commons on the latest coronavirus restrictions.

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.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to announce further coronavirus measures for Scotland after the Cobra meeting on Tuesday morning.

Across Northern Ireland and certain areas of Wales, new measures placing restrictions on households gathering indoors will come into force from 6pm on Tuesday.

The Prime Minister faces a balancing act between ministers calling for tougher measures to control the virus and those who want to keep the economy as open as possible to protect jobs and livelihoods.

And he faces backbench concerns about the restrictions and the way Parliament has been sidelined in announcing changes.

In the Commons on Monday Tory MP Pauline Latham urged Health Secretary Matt Hancock to tell the Prime Minister “that we actually live in a democracy not a dictatorship and we would like a debate in this House”.