Workers who can work from home should keep doing so “for the foreseeable future,” according to the UK government.
The government set out its most detailed plans yet on the easing of lockdown restrictions in a document published on Monday.
The most recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests around 44% of people in employment are working from home during the lockdown.
The announcement comes after prime minister Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation on Sunday night (10 May), which saw him call for workers unable to work from home to get back to workplaces.
The new document also echoed the message on workers who needed to be on site. It said food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution, and scientific laboratories were among the sectors that “should be open.”
The government has been accused of “shambolic” messaging, as Johnson’s words were seen to suggest the changes applied from Monday. A minister has since confirmed they will apply only from Wednesday (13 May).
There are widespread concerns about the safety of workers who do have to return to workplaces. The new document says workplaces should follow new ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines from government as soon as possible, but they have not yet been released. Publication is expected this week.
There are also fears about safety and capacity on public transport, given limited services and potentially crowded spaces during peak hours.
The new guidelines say social distancing must be “followed rigorously” on public transport, with new guidance for transport operators also yet to be issued but expected this week.
The latest report adds that people working from home “make it possible for people who have to attend workplaces in person to do so.”
The new guidance on Monday urges everyone including key workers to avoid public transport “wherever possible,” instead walking, cycling or driving to work. More funding is being provided for new cycle routes, wider pavements and even road closures to encourage more cycling and walking.
It said it would reduce the risk of overcrowding on public transport and in public spaces for those with no alternative but to commute. widespread working from home would minimise the “number of social contacts,” keeping down transmission rates.
The government is now also encouraging face masks for the first time in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, such as public transport and some shops.
Despite concerns about the easing of lockdown threatening to push up infection rates, the report emphasises a link between looser curbs on the economy and the strength of the NHS.
“Ultimately, a strong economy is the best way to protect people’s jobs and ensure that the government can fund the country’s vital public services including the healthcare response.”