Michael Gove confirmed today that the government is turning its back on work and people are now being encouraged to work from home where they can as Boris Johnson unveils his latest plans to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Prime Minister is due to table a number of measures to fight the disease today, including putting a curfew on all pubs, bars and restaurants in England from 10pm on Thursday.
Mr Johnson will also limit the hospitality sector to table service, highlighting the need for people to follow socially distant guidelines, wear face coverings, and wash their hands regularly.
Other possible restrictions that could be announced include further delaying trials of spectators returning to professional sporting events, closing indoor concert halls and reducing the number of people allowed to attend weddings.
Mr Gove's confirmation that the government is turning its urge to get more workers back into offices on its head is likely to spark dire warnings about the future of struggling city centers.
Mr Gove said there needs to be a "shift in focus" to combat the rising rate of infection and that "one of the things we're going to highlight is that we'd encourage people to work from home" ;.
The move marks a detrimental moment for Mr Johnson, who in July said people "should go back to work now if they can" and in early September told his cabinet that "people are going back to offices in large numbers in our country "and quite right too & # 39 ;.
The 10pm curfew in the hospitality industry sparked an immediate backlash in the industry when the UKHospitality group said it was "another major blow".
There are also fears that the move could have unintended consequences if warned of a possible “increase in unregulated events and house parties”.
Tory MPs also expressed concern about the curfew, calling it a "terrible blow" to the hotel industry and warning that there could be no further "major lockdown".
It was alleged overnight that Mr Johnson initially advocated a full shutdown of the hospitality and leisure sectors before Chancellor Rishi Sunak persuaded him to take a less stringent course after warning of economic slaughter.
However, there are growing concerns that the government may impose stricter restrictions on socialization, going even beyond the current six rule. That could mean a ban on mixing households.
Despite the Prime Minister's new move, some experts have already warned the measures will not be enough after senior scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said yesterday that the UK could suffer 50,000 cases a day through mid-October and more than 200 deaths a day through November unless the UK changes course.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the government's scientific advisory group on emergencies (Sage), said there are "several areas of society that unfortunately need to increase their restrictions".
Mr Johnson is expected to set out his actions in detail in the House of Commons after a Cobra meeting this morning at lunchtime. He will then deliver an address to the nation at 8 p.m. tonight.
Boris Johnson will announce today that pubs and restaurants in England will be closed from 10pm on Thursday
Confirming the shift in work from home this morning, Mr Gove told Sky News, “There will be a shift in emphasis and one of the things we're going to highlight is when people can be from home to work then we would encourage them to do so.
“Now it's important to emphasize that there are many, many, many roles that cannot be performed from home.
“There are people in manufacturing, construction, retail, and other roles that we see that this is simply impossible. That is why we have campaigned for you to have Covid-safe jobs and of course we have to balance the need to ensure that people continue to work and can actually continue to go to school critically, and to benefit from education, no action needs to be taken be to reduce the virus. That is why we try to limit or appropriately restrict social contact. & # 39;
Mr. Gove couldn't say how long the government's new coronavirus measures are expected to last.
"We hope that we can take appropriate steps now. If we can fight back the virus, we can gradually relax it in the future," he told BBC Breakfast.
"But what I can't do is predict with absolute certainty."
When asked if it would be months or weeks, Mr Gove said, "It is, as Professor Vallance and Chris Whitty pointed out yesterday, that we will have a challenge in the next six months."
Mr Gove insisted that the government take "reluctant steps" with the new coronavirus measures, but added that they were "absolutely necessary".
"There will be more details that the prime minister will set out and one of the points that he will make is that nobody wants to do these things, nobody wants to take these steps," he told Sky News.
“The steps we are taking are reluctant, but they are absolutely necessary.
"Because, as we were reminded yesterday, and as you reported, the infection rate is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing and we have to act."
It was alleged overnight that Mr. Gove and Secretary of Health Matt Hancock pushed for the hospitality industry to be shut down completely.
The Times reported a "consensus" formed over the move last Thursday, with Sage also on board.
The Prime Minister is said to have initially endorsed the shutdown plan, which caused concern within the Treasury Department and the Department of Economy, Energy and Industrial Strategy and prompted Mr. Sunak to request a meeting with Mr. Johnson.
That meeting came on Friday as Mr Sunak warned of the economic carnage that could result in a full hospitality shutdown, causing Mr Johnson to change his mind and instead pursue the less stringent curfew plan.
The new restrictions caused trouble in the hospitality industry. Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality general manager, described it as "another devastating blow" to many companies.
"A hard closing time is bad for business and bad for fighting the virus. We need to give people time to disperse over a longer period of time," she said.
“Since reopening, table service has been widespread in some parts of the sector, but not required in all areas of business such as coffee shops.
"It's hard to understand how these measures are the answer to the disease when government data shows that only 5% of infections outside the home are hospitality-related."
Michael Kill, executive director of the Night-Time Industries Association, warned the measures could spark a spate of unregulated events and house parties that are the real sources of infection attending frustrated young people who are denied access to a safe and legitimate night has been. Time hospitality places & # 39 ;.
The measures also sparked a backlash from the Tory, with senior Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin calling it a "terrible blow".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today program: “The people who run pubs, own pubs, are in a terrible strain.
"And the lifeline of loans and grants has kept these people almost afloat, and this is going to be a terrible blow for them."
He added, “The worst case scenario would be if we had to have another major lockdown. That would be terrible for the economy.
“Anything that can avoid or reduce this risk appears to be justified.
He said parliament would have to debate and vote on the government's proposed measures after his Tory colleagues accused Mr Johnson of "deciding by decree".
Official Downing Street slides showed that if the infection rate continued, there could be 50,000 coronavirus cases a day through mid-October, which could result in more than 200 deaths a day by mid-November
There are already fears that the government will have to impose further draconian restrictions in the coming weeks and months.
Professor Semple was asked on BBC Radio 4's Today program if he believed the 10 p.m. pub curfew would be enough to stop the spread of infection.
He replied: & # 39; No, it won't be. There are some areas of society where its restrictions unfortunately need to be tightened, but it is necessary now as cases are increasingly emerging not only in the frail elderly but also in those under 50. "
When asked what else could be affected by a clampdown soon, the Sage agent said, “We will potentially have to watch fewer sporting events and that will hit many of us hard as we enjoy football, boxing and other activities before especially in the north west of England.
"We'll likely see increased restrictions in the hospitality industry as time goes on. I think that curfew and table service probably only need to go through 10 am. I think that's very likely."
The Prime Minister's announcement of new enforcement measures comes after the government's top two scientists painted a bleak picture of what could happen if the UK fails to get the coronavirus under control.
Sir Patrick said yesterday that there could be 50,000 new daily cases by October and more than 200 daily deaths by November.
Alongside Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, Sir Patrick said the "vast majority of the population are still susceptible to coronavirus" and that the current situation calls for swift action to reduce the number of cases.
Prof. Whitty suggested that reducing social contact was a key to containing the spread, but acknowledged that a balance had to be struck to protect the economy.
"The ministers who make the decisions – and society as a whole – have to find this very difficult balance," he said.
“If we do too little, this virus will spiral out of control and result in a significant number of direct and indirect deaths.
“However, if we go too far in the other direction, we can damage the economy, which can affect unemployment, poverty and deprivation. All of these have long-term health effects. So we have to keep these two sides in mind. & # 39;
He suggested that science would "ride to our rescue" at some point, but "in this time of the next six months, I think we must realize that we must collectively take this very seriously."
The four UK chief medical officers recommended raising the Covid alert level from three to four – the second highest – last night, suggesting the epidemic is in general circulation. Transmission is high or increasing exponentially.
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