Ministers fear that chief medical officer Chris Whitty could quit over Boris Johnson’s push to get employees back to work, it has been claimed.
Cabinet sources have suggested that England’s top doctor could step down if the Government insists that more workers physically return to their offices.
The Government has so far stopped short of instructing businesses to get their employees back – instead simply encouraging them to do so.
Tory MPs have told the Mirror they believe the PM will not demand staff go back despite his concerns about the impact on city centre economies stricken by coronavirus.
Instead, he will do more to persuade workers of the benefits of returning, reassure them that it is safe to do so.
The Government will also try to lead by example by getting more Whitehall civil servants back to their still virtually empty departments.
One Tory MP said: “They wouldn’t dare to go any further as government scientists like Chris Whitty would be very nervous. If he opposed the move it could lead to a huge collapse in public confidence”.
The Department of Health denied that Professor Whitty, who said in July that social distancing would have to continue for “a long period of time”, had any intention of standing down.
One insider said: “It’s totally untrue. Chris is not and has not threatened to resign. He’s given no one any indication or suggestion that he’s being pushed too far.”
It came as Mr Johnson today told the first meeting of his Cabinet since the summer that “huge numbers” of workers were returning to work – but was unable to provide any evidence.
He said: “People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country, and quite right too.”
But the PM’s official spokesman claimed it was “too soon” for No 10 to share the figures behind the claim, raising speculation they don’t exist.
Amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus this winter, Mr Johnson warned there was “still going to be more of this disease, this wretched Covid” to come.
He said there was “still going to be some turbulence ahead” but that “if we continue the way that we have there will be calmer days, brighter days and calmer seas ahead of us”.
However, he admitted: “In the last few months we have been sailing into the teeth of a gale, there is no question”.
Mr Johnson tried to explain away multiple government u-turns over the summer which have led to claims of incompetence.
“Sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change, as the wind changes,” he told his ministers.