Boris Johnson today announced he is aiming for life in the UK to return to something close to normal by Christmas as he said workers will be encouraged to stop working from home from August.
The Prime Minister today used a Downing Street press conference to set out his timetable for the further easing of lockdown measures.
He said restrictions on the use of public transport in England are being dropped from today with trips on the train and bus to no longer be viewed as the option of last resort.
He said the Government will publish new guidance applying from August on the crunch issue of working from home in the hope that more employees will physically return to their desks to give the economy a much needed boost.
He made that pledge despite Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, warning yesterday that there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to change the policy.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister said the Government is targeting the reopening of stadiums in the autumn with audiences potentially returning to football matches and outdoor gigs in October.
Crucially, the PM also said the Government is hoping to review all the remaining ‘outstanding restrictions’ in the coming months in order to allow a ‘more significant return to normality from November’ and ‘possibly in time for Christmas’.
However, Mr Johnson insisted that all of the proposed changes would only go ahead of the spread of coronavirus continues to fall.
He stressed the UK must be prepared for a second wave in the winter as he announced £3 billion of extra funding for the NHS and vowed new powers to enable ministers and councils to impose strict local lockdowns.
He also pledged to increase the UK’s daily coronavirus testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October with the NHS Test and Trace programme tasked with playing a key role in stopping the spread of the disease.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson today set out the next stage in his plan to return life to normal in the UK
Sir Patrick Vallance yesterday told MPs he believed there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to chnge existing work from home guidance
Green light for fans to return to stadiums: Boris Johnson announces sports grounds could let spectators back in from October
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced crowds could return to sports stadiums in the United Kingdom from October subject to successful pilot events starting later this month.
Sports events have taken place without crowds since they restarted in recent weeks because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.
But laying out the next steps in lifting lockdown on Friday morning, Mr Johnson said: ‘From 1 August, we will restart indoor performance to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots, and we will also pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadia, with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn.
‘From October, we intend to bring back audiences in stadia. Again, these changes must be done in a Covid-secure way, subject to the successful outcome of pilots.’
It raises the possibility that only the first month of the 2020-21 football season will be played out behind closed doors, with supporters allowed back in the autumn.
The pilot events – which would see a limited number of spectators admitted to stadiums with social distancing rules observed – could begin this month.
It has been reported that pilot events will include the County Championship cricket match between Surrey and Middlesex at The Oval on July 26, the Glorious Goodwood race meet between July 28 and August 1, and the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible from July 31.
Mr Johnson said any further changes to lockdown restrictions will rely ‘on our continued success in controlling the virus’.
The Prime Minister spoke last week about his desire for more workers to return to their places of work amid growing fears that a lack of commuters will see urban centres struggle to recover.
But his announcement today was more nuanced than had been anticipated as he said businesses would be given ‘discretion’ to decide, following consultation with staff, when workers should return.
He told today’s briefing: ‘We will not proceed if doing so risks a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS.
‘Nonetheless it is important to give people hope and to give business confidence, so in England from today we are making clear that anybody may use public transport while of course encouraging people to consider alternative means of transport where they are available.
‘From July 25 we have already committed to reopening indoor gyms, pools and other sports facilities.
‘From August 1 we will update our advice on going to work. Instead of government telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.
‘That could mean, of course, continuing to work from home which is one way of working safely, and which has worked for many employers and employees.
‘Or it could mean making work places safe by following Covid secure guidelines.
‘Whatever employers decide, they should consult closely with their employees and only ask people to return to their place of work if it is safe.’
Mr Johnson’s announcement on working from home appears to put him at odds with Sir Patrick.
The expert had told the Science and Technology Select Committee yesterday afternoon that the UK is ‘still at a time when distancing measures are important’ and that working remotely ‘remains a perfectly good option’.
He then went even further as he said many companies had found working from home had not been ‘detrimental to productivity’ and as a result there is no need to move away from the policy.
He said: ‘My view on this, and I think this is a view shared by SAGE, is that we are still at a time when distancing measures are important and of the various distancing measures working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it is easy to do.
‘I think a number of companies think it is actually not detrimental to productivity and in that situation absolutely no reason I can see to change it.’
Mr Johnson today sought to down play splits with Sir Patrick as he said it was not for the Government to tell employers if staff should return to their workplaces.
‘I totally agree with Patrick Vallance on what he is saying,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘It is not for Government to decide how employers should run their companies and whether they want their work forces in the office or not – that is for companies.’
As well as the shift on working from home, Mr Johnson said that remaining leisure facilities like bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos will be allowed to reopen from August 1 but night clubs will remain shut for the foreseeable future.
Restrictions on weddings in England will also be lifted to allow up to 30 people to attend receptions.
On the issue of reopening stadiums for sporting and music events, Mr Johnson said the timing would be dependent on the outcome of pilots but that ministers have earmarked October.
He said: ‘We will restart indoor performances to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots and we will also pilot larger gatherings in venues like sports stadia with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn.’
He added: ‘From October we intend to bring back audiences in stadia and to allow conferences and other business events to recommence.
‘Again these changes must be done in a Covid secure way subject to the successful outcome of pilots.’
Mr Johnson said that it is his hope that the Government will be able to recommend in the coming months that families and friends can resume more close contact.
‘Throughout this period we will look to allow more close contact between friends and family where we can,’ he said.
‘It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas.’
Despite the PM’s optimistic timetable, Mr Johnson also warned that the UK must be ready to deal with spikes in infection as he set out new powers for councils to impose ‘lightning lockdowns’.
He said that as of tomorrow local authorities will be able to shut outdoor public spaces and cancel events if it is necessary to stop an outbreak.
Meanwhile, new powers will also be brought forward to allow ministers to impose tougher local lockdown restrictions including ‘stay-at-home’ orders.
Mr Johnson said: ‘From tomorrow, local authorities will have new powers in their areas.
‘They will be able to close specific premises, shut public outdoor spaces and cancel events.
‘These powers will enable local authorities to act more quickly in response to outbreaks where speed is paramount.
‘Action by local councils will not always be sufficient, so next week we will publish draft regulations on how central government can intervene more effectively at a local level.
‘Where justified by the evidence, ministers will be able to close whole sectors or types of premises in an area, introduce local stay-at-home orders, prevent people entering or leaving defined areas, reduce the size of gatherings beyond the national defined rules or restrict transport systems serving local areas.’
The Prime Minister today acknowledged the threat of a second wave of coronavirus this winter.
Sources had said he was determined to avoid the fate of several US states which are seeing cases of the virus soar after easing restrictions too fast.
The premier is hoping an extra £3 billion of funding will ensure the health service is ready for a potential spike in infections.
It comes after a report commissioned by Sir Patrick warned there could be 120,000 hospital deaths in a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ this winter.
Confirming the £3bn in extra funding, Mr Johnson said: ‘Demand for testing is not the only challenge that winter will bring. It’s possible that the virus will be more virulent in the winter months and it’s certain that the NHS will face the usual annual winter pressures.’
He added: ‘We’re making sure we’re ready for winter and planning for the worst. But even as we plan for the worst I strongly believe we should hope for the best.
‘That means looking ahead with optimism, now extending our plan to lift the remaining national measures, which have restricted our lives since March, so we can get back to something closer to normal life.’
Mr Johnson today published an additional chapter to the Government’s ‘road map’ for recovery from the crisis.
Earlier this week Mr Johnson was warned in the report by the Academy of Medical Sciences that action must be taken now to mitigate the potential for a second peak, including scaling up the Test and Trace system.
The research said capacity for 350,000 tests per day will be needed to test individuals as they show symptoms of either Covid-19 or flu.
The latest Government figures say capacity stood at nearly 338,000, but Mr Johnson today committed to increase this to half a million by the end of October to bolster Test and Trace.