Coronavirus: Johnson relaxes work from home rules to kick-start UK economy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hands employers more discretion over where staff can work safely

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the door on Friday for more people to return to their offices in an effort to kick-start the UK’s flagging economy, which has shrunk by one quarter since March.

He said that anyone will now be allowed to use public transport and that from August 1 employers will have more discretion on bringing staff back to the office.

But the decision put Mr Johnson at odds with his chief scientific adviser who on Thursday said there was no reason to change the current advice, which says people should work from home if they can.

In laying out the new measures the prime minister said he hoped there would be “a more significant return to normality” by the end of the year.

“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,” he said.

Mr Johnson added this could entail "continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees".

“Where employers think it’s time to come back and it can be done in a safe way, then that is what we think they should be doing,” Mr Johnson told a press conference.

The UK has been one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, with an official death toll surpassing 45,000.

On Thursday the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, who was not at Friday’s press conference with Mr Johnson, said that he could see “absolutely no reason” to change the work-from-home guidance.

People wearing face masks as a precaution against the transmission of the novel coronavirus shop at an open fruit and vegetable market in Leicester, central England on July 17, 2020, as local lockdown restrictions remain in force due to a spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in the city.  Boris Johnson said on July 17 he hoped Britain would "return to normality" by November despite being badly affected by the coronavirus and predictions of a second wave of cases during winter months. The prime minister announced fresh powers for councils to impose  local lockdowns, such as one currently in place in the English midlands city of Leicester, if there were increased number of cases elsewhere. The government on July 16 annouced a partially ease a two-week-old local lockdown in Leicester, after the number of new coronavirus cases had fallen, but remained well above the average for England which means restrictions on schools, early years childcare and non-essential retail stores will be relaxed from July 24, but that other measures impacting travel, social gatherings and the hospitality sector would remain.
 / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS

“We’re 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’s easy to do,” he told a parliamentary committee.

“A number of companies think actually it’s not detrimental to productivity.”

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