No10 urges workers to tell bosses if they want to come back to the office amid home working surge

Downing Street said today workers who want to return to their workplace should put pressure on their bosses to allow it.

No10 said businesses had a obligation to offer staff ‘Covid-secure workplaces’ if they cannot work from home amid reports many City firms are plotting to retain home working into 2021. 

NatWest is among banks that has told staff they will not return to offices in London and elsewhere this year, while Virgin Money is considering not bringing back some workers at all.

Additionally, the head of human resources at Swiss-owned bank UBS predicted that the future would see more flexible working patterns, including more working from home.

The rise in home working sparked fears for the future of businesses and workers in ancillary service industries reliant on commuters.  

Asked if the return of English schools next week should herald a wider return to work, the Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman said:  ‘We have been clear that if you can’t work from home you should speak to your employer and it is up to employers to provide Covid-secure workplaces so people can attend work where needed.’

Natwest is among banks telling staff they will not return to offices in London and elsewhere this year

UBS and Virgin Money are considering not bringing back some workers at all

UBS and Virgin Money are considering not bringing back some workers at all

Matt Hancock launches plan to test four MILLION people daily 

 Matt Hancock is said to be planning an astonishing rise in the number of coronavirus tests carried out, with a target of four million per day to get the economy back on track.

The Health Secretary is said to be preparing what has been dubbed ‘Operation Moon Shot with the aim of increasing daily tests by around twelve-fold by early next year.

Currently the NHS and private testing centers have a capacity of around 326,000, although because of the current level of infection, only around 190,000 are being carried out. 

A massive expansion of the testing regime is seen as a key requirement of easing lockdown measures further as the public continue to be wary of a return to workplaces. 

‘It is at an embryonic stage and it’s going to take a hell of a lot of work. It is nicknamed Operation Moon Shot because that is what a moon shot is like: it seems very hard but it’s important and we want to land it,’ a source told the Telegraph.   

Nat West Group has told told City staff not to expect a return to the office this year, the Financial Times reported.

It also claimed Virgin Money’s non customer-facing staff have been told they may work from home the majority of the time.

Lloyds Bank is also said to be examining the best use of its office space.

Stefan Seiler, the human resources chief at Swiss bank UBS told the FT: ‘We have proven that working from home is possible for most roles.

‘What is clear is that there will be more working from home, we will see more flexible work arrangements.’ 

It came as London mayor Sadiq Khan faced criticism over his perceived failure to persuade people to return to their places of work.

Natwest announced in July that said that an estimated 50,000 of its employees will work from home into 2021.

Earlier this month it was revealed fewer British office workers have returned to their workplace than in any other major European country.

Little more than a third (34 per cent) of UK staff were back at their desks, with the remainder continuing to work from home.

This contrasted with 83 per cent of French office staff and 70 per cent of Germans, according to a survey by researchers at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

However, their analysis found that Britons who have returned to their offices are doing so for more days a week than continental rivals.

Almost half (46 per cent) of UK workers who have returned are working at least five days a week from their office, far more than in France, Germany, Italy or Spain.

The figures come amid a high street bloodbath with retailers experiencing massively reduced footfall.

Test and Trace online booking flaw sends people on 350-mile round trip for Covid test

The NHS Test and Trace system has faced fresh criticism for a flaw in its online booking system which tries to direct people to test centres more than 100 miles away.

Some people with coronavirus symptoms who try to book a test online are directed to centres which would take them more than three hours to reach by car.

A person from Ilfracombe in Devon who has symptoms of Covid-19 – including a persistent cough, fever or loss of sense of taste or smell – is directed to a test centre in Swansea when they try to book a test online.

This would see them drive past centres in Taunton, Bristol and Cardiff on their six-and-a-half hour round trip, driving 175 miles in each direction.

People in Felixstowe, Suffolk, have been directed to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, with the Government coronavirus test booking website saying it is just 13.8 miles away.

However, the journey is 40 miles by car, taking almost an hour to get from one place to another.

And people in the region with symptoms of Covid-19 would be forced to drive past their closest test centre in Ipswich on their way to Clacton.

Labour said problems with the booking system should be resolved as a ‘matter of urgency’.

One person from Felixstowe who tried to book a test online told the PA news agency: ‘If I was travelling by boat, then Clacton would be my nearest test centre.

‘I tried to book online but was only given the option of going to Clacton so I called 119. The operator got the same results.

‘They told me that it is not just my region – some people in Newcastle are being directed to test centres in Scotland instead of ones in the city.

‘I have symptoms so am going to get them checked out. But I can imagine that others would be put off by the prospect of two hours in the car – while driving past their actual nearest centre.’

Another example shows that a person in Gosport, Portsmouth, is directed to the test site at Chessington World of Adventures, in Greater London, rather than a Covid-19 drive-through test site in Portsmouth.

Driving from Gosport to the Portsmouth centre takes around 26 minutes for the 11-mile trip, while driving from Gosport to Chessington takes almost an hour-and-a-half for a 67-mile journey.

A person with Covid-19 symptoms in Weston-super-Mare is directed to a testing centre in Cardiff – which takes more than an hour in the car.

However, there is a drive-through testing site at Bristol airport around 25 minutes away.

Some people with a Southampton postcode are being directed to Swindon – around a four-hour round trip.

Problems with the booking system have been highlighted from early on in the crisis but it appears that glitches in the system – which seem to disproportionately affect those on the coast – are yet to be rectified.

Labour said it was ‘hugely disappointing’ that the issues were still occurring and called on the Government to address the issues as a ‘matter of urgency’.

Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: ‘From the first days when testing centres were being rolled out, we have heard stories of people being sent unfeasibly long distances just to get a test, but for this to be still happening at this stage is hugely disappointing.

‘Quick and easy access to testing are cornerstones of an effective test and trace system but once again the Tories seem unable to get the basics right.

‘They must solve these problems as a matter of urgency.’

Face masks chaos as Nicola Sturgeon is poised to order children to wear mouth coverings in Scottish school corridors and communal areas – as Boris rules them OUT for teachers and pupils

Nicola Sturgeon today signalled secondary school pupils and staff in Scotland will be asked to wear face masks when they travel between classes – as Number 10 ruled out a similar move in England. 

The Scottish First Minister said her government is consulting on exactly when and where the coverings will be required as she cited concerns about ventilation issues in corridors and communal areas. 

However, Downing Street said there are ‘no plans’ for the UK Government to change its approach to the issue in England. 

The Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman said the wearing of masks would risk ‘obstructing communication’ while ministers insisted face coverings are ‘not necessary’ if guidance on school hygiene is followed. 

The difference in approach is likely to cause confusion among parents and pupils as all four of the home nations try to get schools back up and running. 

Nicola Sturgeon told her daily coronavirus briefing that her government is consulting on requiring pupils to wear face masks when travelling between classes

Nicola Sturgeon told her daily coronavirus briefing that her government is consulting on requiring pupils to wear face masks when travelling between classes

Boris Johnson today issued a plea to parents to send their children back to school in England next week. Downing Street has ruled out forcing pupils and staff to wear masks

Boris Johnson today issued a plea to parents to send their children back to school in England next week. Downing Street has ruled out forcing pupils and staff to wear masks 

Education is a devolved issue which means the administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can adopt their own policies.  

The UK government’s current guidance for England does not recommend teachers or pupils should wear face masks. 

But Ms Sturgeon told her daily coronavirus briefing that Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney is in the final stages of consulting with teachers and councils on the issue.

She said recommendations would not include pupils wearing masks while in the classroom.

The move follows requests from some schools north of the border for pupils to wear face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon said: ‘We’re consulting on this specific measure because, firstly, mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas – increasing the potential for transmission.

‘Secondly, crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised, resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission.

‘Finally, there’s also less scope for ventilation in these areas.’

She said decisions are yet to be made on whether the guidance would apply to school transport and that decision will be made in the coming days.

Asked if the UK Government would follow Ms Sturgeon’s lead on the issue, the PM’s deputy official spokesman said: ‘There are no plans to review the guidance on face coverings in schools… we are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.’

Earlier, the UK Government’s Schools Minister Nick Gibb had said masks are ‘not necessary’ for teachers or pupils.   

He told the BBC: ‘We are always led by the scientific advice. What the current advice is is that if a school puts in place the measures that are in the guidance that we issued in early July, all of the hygiene pleasures I have been talking about, then masks are not necessary for staff or pupils.’

Asked if he believed the guidance could change, he said: ‘We always listen to whatever the current advice is from Public Health England, the chief medical officers, we always adhere to that advice.’ 

Unison is one a number of unions who have called for teachers to be allowed to wear a mask or face covering because of staff safety concerns.

‘It’s still unclear why government guidance won’t allow them, when they’re recommended for other workplaces,’ the union said.