Boris Johnson will set out plans today to get millions back to work – hours after his chief scientist said they should keep working from home if they can.
Amid increasing concern over the economic fall-out from the lockdown, the Prime Minister will publish a blueprint for firms to get staff back into their workplaces over the next nine months.
The Government will drop advice employees should work from home when they can – and suggest if safety measures are in place, they go into the office.
It comes as lockdown was partially lifted in Leicester yesterday amid a row over why some restrictions remain in force.
The PM will also set out plans to get workers safely back on to public transport – fearing that unless they do, city centre offices will remain empty.
But Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific advisor, yesterday told a committee of MPs home-working was an effective method of keeping people distanced from each other.
He said: “It remains a perfectly good option, it’s easy to do. I can see absolutely no reason to change it.” His words put him on collision course with the PM as the country faces an economic crisis.
The new advice unveiled by Mr Johnson is likely to stop short of ordering firms to get their staff to return to work.
But they will be given more leeway over safety measures so they can get more workers back in.
The PM is expected to be joined by “test and trace” chief Dido Harding in a bid to convince businesses and their employees the Government is able to quickly tackle local flare-ups.
But union bosses warned the safety of workers must not be put at risk in order to prop up struggling high streets.
TUC chief Frances O’Grady told the Mirror: “ Boris Johnson needs to tell us what his plan is for parents who can’t find childcare and for those shielding at home. What are they supposed to do?
“We all want to get the economy up and running as quickly as possible. But now is not the time to wing it. Employers must have carried out and published thorough risk assessments so workers have the confidence it’s safe for them to return.
“And companies must agree to staggered start times for workers who rely on public transport. We can’t afford for rush hour to become crush hour.”
Chief scientist Sir Patrick also told MPs the UK now faces waves of Covid-19 for years to come.
The PM is expected to announce £3billion extra winter funding for the NHS to help prepare for a second wave of the virus.
But Sir Patrick said: “I think it’s quite probable that we will see this virus coming back in different waves, over a number of years.”
“It’s very difficult to know where we stand at the moment. It’s clear the outcome has not been good in the UK.” He added: “There will be things, decisions made, that will turn out not to have been the right decisions at the time, I’m sure about that as well.”
The UK has seen more deaths than any other European country. The Government announced 45,119 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive as of 5pm on Wednesday. This was up by 66 from the previous day.
The figures do not include all deaths involving Covid-19 across the UK, which are thought to have passed 55,500.
In Leicester, travel bans and a six-person cap on gatherings remain for the city, but were lifted for boroughs on its outskirts.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was keeping measures in place for at least another fortnight in the city because infections “still remain well above the national average”.
But mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said the local outbreak was being dramatically driven down and claimed data provided to city officials showed only 10% of Leicester had higher transmission rates.
Sir Peter said: “There are going to be an awful lot of Leicester people who are very angry indeed.”