Empty offices are killing our town centres, warns Boris Johnson: PM orders British workers to return to their desks to help save the economy as homeworking wreaks havoc on nation’s finances
- Boris Johnson will next week tell office workers to start returning to their desks
- PM will use update on virus strategy to press employers to get staff back to work
- Mr Johnson ‘is aghast at the impact empty offices are having on town centres’
Boris Johnson will next week tell office workers to start returning to their desks to help save the British economy.
The Prime Minister will use an update on virus strategy to press employers to start ordering their staff back to the workplace – if it is safe.
He and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are said to be aghast at the impact empty offices are having on town centre shops and restaurants – and worried that widespread homeworking is wrecking Britain’s productivity.
Government sources say Mr Johnson told Whitehall chiefs this week to set an example by starting to return civil servants to their desks. On a conference call with 200 senior civil servants, he said it was ‘more efficient and productive’ than working from home.
He added: ‘Now we are asking primary school children to come back, now that we are opening shops, and pubs are coming back, I do think it’s time for the great British civil service departments of state to get back to the office if we can do so in a Covid-secure way.
‘I know there are logistical difficulties but we have got to get back to our desks if we can. I do hope, in the words of Vera Lynn, we will meet again and get everybody back together.’
He has also asked business and City chiefs, including Goldman Sachs boss Richard Gnodde, to order more staff back to base.
Mr Johnson hinted at the new strategy in a public Q&A session yesterday, saying people should ‘start to go to work now if you can’ and adding: ‘I want to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants, and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wearing a face mask in his Uxbridge constituency. The Prime Minister will use an update on virus strategy to press employers to start ordering their staff back to the workplace – if it is safe
‘The faster we can get back to the status quo the better.’
The PM has asked officials for a ‘Roadmap 2’ for returning to a more normal life, with a nine-month timetable for scrapping most social distancing rules. He is wrangling with Government scientists about how to do it safely.
Chains left in lurch without lunchtime rush
Business leaders called for more clarity from ministers yesterday over when millions of white-collar workers can return to their offices.
They claim working from home is damaging the economy, with High Street retailers such as Pret A Manger and Upper Crust slashing thousands of jobs after takings were hammered by the absence of employees buying food on their lunch breaks.
Boots also said footfall had ‘dramatically reduced’ as it announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs.
James Reed, of the recruitment firm Reed, said retailers had become ‘collateral damage’, adding: ‘Businesses need greater clarity over when workers could come back to offices.’
Shobi Khan, chief executive of the London offices landlord Canary Wharf Group, said: ‘There is no problem going to Spain, Italy or France, but heaven forbid you go to the office.’
Edwin Morgan, of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘Offices play a key role in the surrounding economy. City centre firms, particularly in food and hospitality, rely heavily on commuter custom.’
He is particularly concerned about the effect of homeworking in London, whose normally vibrant economy helps power the UK. A senior source said: ‘It doesn’t matter how much Rishi Sunak spends on incentives and subsidies to help restaurants and shops if their customers are sat at home.’
Many banks and companies have told staff they are likely to be working from home until September or even the end of the year, leaving business areas deserted.
Retailers including Boots, Pret A Manger, Upper Crust and TM Lewin are among those slashing thousands of jobs as a result. James Reed, head of recruitment firm Reed, said: ‘It’s clear offices re-opening would be a positive for the economy and would bring a lot of life back into the cities.’
Government offices have been deserted since the start of March. At the Department for Education, for example, just 20 staff out of 6,500 are regularly in the office. Mr Johnson said he aimed to avoid a second spike using test-and-trace and local lockdowns but wanted to avoid a new national lockdown at all costs. ‘I do want to get back to a world where people are able to shake hands again,’ he added.
His message suggests the PM has overruled Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been cautious about easing the lockdown.
In a web chat with a women’s group yesterday, he said working from home had become the ‘new norm’ and suggested people could be given a new right to request it. He said there was a ‘big argument that home working had raised productivity. Whitehall sources said the PM did not agree.
But aides later suggested Mr Hancock had been talking about existing rules that give people the right to request flexible working.
On Friday Mr Johnson urged Britons to get back into work – in a shift from the government’s ‘work from home if you can’ edict.
The PM suggested people should return to the office if it is ‘safe’ as he held an online Q&A session with members of the public.
The comments seem to mark a significant change in the message from ministers, amid mounting concerns about a bloodbath of jobs on the high street – with 60,000 facing the axe this week alone as lockdown wreaks havoc on the economy.
Cafes and coffee shops have been slashing their workforce as demand has all-but dried up in many towns and cities, with huge numbers still working from home rather than going to the office.
Boris Johnson is seen wearing a face mask while out in his Uxbridge constituency today
The PM suggested people should return to the office if it is ‘safe’ as he held an online Q&A session with members of the public today
The Government’s concerns now seem to shifting to the economic health of the country, with fears that 1980s-style unemployment will make a comeback unless normal consumer behaviour resumes. Forecasts now predict that the UK jobless rate will top 10 per cent by the end of the year.
Although the Prime Minister has consistently said his Government ‘follows the science’ on coronavirus policy, it is not yet clear whether Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser and Sage chairman, have approved the change in message.
Despite Mr Johnson’s comments earlier today, the official guidance remains the same, and those who can work from home should continue to do so, a Downing Street spokesperson told MailOnline.
There are concerns that many staff will be unable to return even if they want to, as social distancing rules mean there is not enough physical space on offices and public transport cannot run at full capacity.
Mr Johnson said today: ‘I want people to go back to work as carefully as possible. It’s very important that people should be going back to work if they can now.’
The move by the PM came as:
- South West England’s R rate could now have edged above one, with government scientists admitting the Midlands is now the only region where it is definitely below the pivotal number. Across the country it remains between 0.7 and 0.9, according to the assessment;
- The UK has recorded just 48 more Covid-19 deaths, taking the official toll to 44,650. It means the average daily number of fatalities has now dropped to 74 – the lowest since March 24 and a 28 per cent fall in a week
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled another massive package to revive UK plc this week, urging people to help out by spending money with businesses crippled by the efforts to combat coronavirus
- Nearly 60,000 workers face redundancy after a series of businesses pulled the trigger on layoffs less than a day after the Chancellor delivered a £30billion package designed to keep people off the dole
- The owner of Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s said one in 10 of its restaurants will not reopen before the end of the year, becoming the latest firm to reveal it is struggling due to the coronavirus crisis, following Boots, John Lewis, Rolls Royce and Burger King this week
Tesco has scrapped one way systems on aisle floors as the supermarket eases social distancing restrictions.
The supermarket announced it will be increasing the number of customers allowed inside stores though it will still ask shoppers to stay two metres apart.
Supermarkets across the UK were forced to introduce rules keeping customers safe when the coronavirus lockdown first came into place in March.
The Government’s bid to get more business open last Saturday has allowed Tesco to reduce queues outside by introducing more customers inside.
Tesco, which has around 3,700 UK stores, joined other supermarkets in enforcing one-way queues and a new one-in-one-out entry plan in March.
Other supermarkets including Aldi introduced a traffic light system at entrances to keep to the two-metre social distancing gap.
Tesco said it will monitor how many customers visit now measures have been relaxed but some stores are now allowing more people inside at one time.
The number of customers allowed in each branch will be decided by store managers, so will vary across the country.
In his remarks today, the Prime Minister said: ‘I think everybody has sort of taken the ”stay at home if you can” – I think we should now say, well, ”go back to work if you can”. Because I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally.
‘I want to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants, and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.’
Mr Johnson also hinted that face coverings will be made compulsory in shops in a bid to reassure nervous customers.
He admitted that ‘the balance of scientific opinion seemed to have shifted’ over how effective makeshift masks can be.
‘I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don’t normally meet,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops, for instance, where there is a risk of transmission.’
The shift came after lockdown was significantly eased in England from last Saturday, with pubs and restaurants allowed to open as long as they have ‘Covid Secure’ precautions in place.
However, the PM’s advice for UK employees to work from home where possible seeming still applied until now.
In response to the Prime Minister’s new advice, General Secretary of shop and distribution workers’ trade union Usdaw, Paddy Lillis, told MailOnline: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic is still very much with us and Usdaw urges the Government to proceed with caution and follow the science.
‘The releasing of lockdown must happen at a pace that ensures there isn’t a second spike in infections. Usdaw hasn’t called for the mandatory wearing of face coverings, but now it has been introduced in Scotland we will monitor how it works.
‘We welcome anything that helps to keep customers and shop workers safe, but the most important measure is to maintain proper social distancing and hygiene.
Many food and drink outlets have been hit hard by the fact that millions of Britons have worked from home during the coronavirus crisis. Pictured, Marylebone Station in London
Around 4,000 jobs are set to go at Boots, with 48 of its opticians stores expected to close
‘That’s why Usdaw is urging employers to stay with the established two-metre distancing, keep using screens at tills and limiting the number of shoppers in store at any one time.
‘We also want to be clear that it should never fall on shopworkers to enforce the wearing of face coverings, they are already dealing with more abuse than normal and this could be another flashpoint.’
How many jobs are at risk across the UK?
- Accenture – 900
- Airbus – 1,700
- Arcadia – 500
- BA – 12,000
- Beales – 1,052
- Bentley – 1,000
- Burger King – 1,600
- Casual Dining Group (Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas) – 1,900
- DHL at Jaguar Land Rover – 2,200
- EasyJet – 4,500
- Go Outdoors – 2,400
- Harrods – 700
- Harveys – 240
- Links – 350
- Mothercare – 2,500
- Oasis Warehouse – 1,800
- P&O Ferries – 1,100
- Pret a Manger – 1,330
- Ryanair – 3,000
- SSP Group (Upper Crust, Caffe Ritazza) – 5,000
- Ted Baker – 160
- TM Lewin – 600
- Tui – 8,000
- Victoria’s Secret – 800 at risk
In more evidence of the woes on the high street today, pharmacies insisted they need £370million of loans for PPE and other coronavirus measures turned into a grant by the government.
The chair of the National Pharmacy Association Andrew Lane said: “There are many community pharmacies up and down the country on the financial brink, crippled by the extra cost of COVID19. If they close, the towns and villages they serve will lose a popular and life-saving asset.
‘Similarly, if the government is serious about stopping the slow death of the high street it needs to act now and put its money where its mouth is.
‘The government managed to find more than a billion pounds for the arts sector yet is dithering over financial aid to frontline health workers.’
Earlier today the owner of Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s said one in 10 of its restaurants will not reopen before the end of the year.
The Restaurant Group said the stores – largely in airports – will open next year at the earliest as they are unlikely to attract enough customers to make it worthwhile.
Those affected are in areas ‘where footfall is anticipated to remain considerably weak’, the company said in an update for shareholders on Friday.
It raises concerns for the jobs of those who work at the sites, as the Government’s furlough scheme, which covers salaries, will end in October.
It is the latest firm to reveal it is struggling due to the coronavirus crisis, following Boots, John Lewis, Rolls Royce and Burger King this week.
The news is another blow to Rishi Sunak’s battle to keep Britons in work as it emerged nearly 60,000 workers face redundancy.
A series of businesses pulled the trigger on layoffs less than a day after the Chancellor delivered a £30billion package designed to keep people off the dole.
The Restaurant Group, which owns Wagamama (pictured, the Chancellor at a central London site yesterday) said the stores – largely in airports – will open next year at the earliest
The Restaurant Group did not immediately provide an answer to what will happen to its staff.
All the stores that will reopen this year will have started serving customers by the end of September, the company said.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of its sites that open before the end of August can take advantage of the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which gives diners up to 50 per cent off their meal during the first three days of the week.
One in four of the Restaurant Group’s restaurants and pubs will be open by the end of this month.
It told investors: ‘The group has now started a phased reopening of its restaurants and pubs for eat-in trade in line with Government guidance.
‘We are very pleased to be able to welcome back our customers and colleagues ensuring that their safety is paramount, whilst maintaining an enjoyable experience.
‘The diversified portfolio of the group allows each division to adapt to the challenges of social distancing uniquely, whilst keeping the customer at the heart of every decision.’
The news comes at a turbulent time for the company. Last month it announced 125 Frankie & Benny’s sites will close permanently, with 3,000 jobs on the line.
It will be left with around 400 restaurants and pubs after the restructuring. The company’s board took a 40 per cent pay cut at the start of April as they tapped into Government furlough money.
On Friday they upped their pay, but will still take 20 per cent less than normal until all staff are off Government-backed furlough.
Who is that masked man? Boris Johnson appears in a face covering for the first time after hinting they WILL be made compulsory in shops
- Boris Johnson has been seen wearing a face covering in public for the first time
- It comes after PM hinted masks could be made compulsory in shops in England
- Nicola Sturgeon has made the coverings compulsory in shops in Scotland
- Poll for MailOnline finds 61 per cent of public in England want to follow suit
Boris Johnson has been seen wearing a face mask for the first time today after he had hinted the coverings would be made compulsory in shops in England.
The prime minister was spotted wearing the covering while out greeting shop owners in his Uxbridge constituency this afternoon.
The UK government currently recommends measures such as a face covering should be taken if people cannot keep two metres away from each other indoors.
However, unlike Scotland – where coverings became compulsory in shops from today – the only place they are mandated is public transport. A poll for MailOnline has found 61 per cent of the public want to follow the example north of the border on the issue.
Speaking during an online Q&A session with members of the public, the PM admitted that ‘the balance of scientific opinion seemed to have shifted’ over how effective masks can be.
‘I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don’t normally meet,’ Mr Johnson said.
Boris Johnson has been pictured wearing a face mask for the first time in public while out in his Uxbridge constituency
The prime minister wore a mask in conservative blue as he met shop owners in his constituency
It comes after he had hinted the coverings would be made compulsory in shops in England
A poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for MailOnline found 61 per cent of the public in England would like to see coverings enforced in shops and supermarkets – with just 26 per cent opposed. The support is reflected across the wider UK
‘We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops, for instance, where there is a risk of transmission.’
Earlier, Mr Johnson faced questions over why he had yet to be seen in a mask in public, before later wearing one.
By contrast, Nicola Sturgeon has appeared in public sporting a tartan model, and has trolled Mr Johnson by retweeting an article asking why Westminster politicians are not wearing them.
A poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for MailOnline found 61 per cent of the public in England would like to see coverings enforced in shops and supermarkets – with just 26 per cent opposed. And new figures from the Office for National Statistics today suggested half of adults are already routinely donning them.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been seen wearing a mask while visiting a hospital, while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden also wore one while attending a gallery this week.
But despite revealing he has a Florence Nightingale mask, the PM has not been seen wearing it.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced a backlash yesterday after he was pictured serving food to customers at a Wagamamas in London without a face covering.
The Prime Minister appeared to be in high spirits as he posed for selfies with members of the public
The Prime Minister visited a range of businesses in his constituency following the easing of lockdown
Speaking during an online Q&A session with members of the public, the PM admitted that ‘the balance of scientific opinion seemed to have shifted’ over how effective they can be
London mayor Sadiq Khan has written to the PM saying he is ‘disappointed and frustrated’ that the Government has not said masks must be worn in ‘busy and enclosed public places’.
The Labour politician added: ‘Face coverings are not only vital for public health. ‘They could play an increasing role in supporting public confidence and our economic recovery.’
When asked whether such a gesture was according to social distancing rules, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘The guidance is clear that you should stay two metres apart where you can. ‘If that’s not possible, it is one metre, plus mitigation, and that mitigation has been set out in the guidance.’
In a round of interviews this morning, culture minister Caroline Dinenage said she wears a mask ‘all the time’ as the Government came under pressure to answer why more senior figures had not been pictured wearing face coverings.
Ms Dinenage, when asked if she had worn a covering since the coronavirus pandemic started, said she regularly wore face masks made by her son and that she had posted an image of herself wearing it on social media.
To mark face masks being made mandatory on public transport last month, the Tory MP tweeted a picture of herself on June 5 while wearing a cloth covering.
Ms Dinenage told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I wear mine all the time.
Nicola Sturgeon (left) has trolled Boris Johnson (right) by retweeting an article asking why Westminster politicians were not wearing face coverings in public
‘I have a fashion design student as a son who has run me up a few on his sewing machine and I wear them all the time.
‘A lot of us are out there wearing them as we go about our daily lives.’
Ms Dinenage said ‘you’d have to ask the Prime Minister and the Chancellor’ when questioned why neither of the highest ranking ministers had been photographed wearing a covering in public.
She said ‘lots of my colleagues’ had taken to wearing a face covering, adding: ‘If the scientific evidence proves that it (the guidance on masks) definitely is something that needs to change, then of course we will.’
Asked whether the government had considered introducing a similar rule to Scotland in England, Ms Dinenage told the BBC: ‘Yes of course, and they are mandatory on public transport.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced a backlash yesterday after he was pictured serving food to customers at a Wagamamas in London without a face covering
Eu chief negotiator Michel Barnier wore a mask when he came to Downing Street this week – in contrast to the PM and the Chancellor
‘But we have said face coverings in closed spaces is advised, but people can use their own discretion – but of course we will keep this under review.
‘This is a topic upon which scientists tend to have rather different views so we are looking at it as new scientific studies emerge.’
The ONS survey was conducted between July 2-5, with 52 per cent of the public saying they had worn a face covering in the previous week – up from 43 per cent the week before..
The president of the Royal Society this week recommended that everyone should wear a face covering in public to reduce the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.
Professor Venki Ramakrishna said people should wear a mask when they leave home – particularly in enclosed indoor spaces – but acknowledged that the public remain ‘sceptical’ about the benefits.
People WON’T obey lockdown again: SAGE files reveal scientists warned UK Government to prepare for ‘visible resistance’ to future rule changes and show a THIRD of the public still don’t know the symptoms of Covid-19
- Behavioural experts warn of ‘various responses’ to future lockdown measures
- People no longer fear the coronavirus as much and disagree with Government
- Young people are sick of social distancing and are beginning to stop doing it
- Other papers showed public toilets are considered a particular transmission risk
- The virus may spread from person-to-person over 10 metres, but it is unlikely
The Government has been warned to prepare for ‘visible resistance’ if it ever tries to introduce another lockdown to fight coronavirus in the future, official advice papers revealed today.
Newly-released files from Number 10’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) show that top behavioural scientists fear people won’t follow the draconian rules for a second time.
They warned young people are tiring of social distancing and abandoning the rules, while disagreements about the UK’s approach to Covid-19 mean the public will be less likely to follow advice in future.
Public faith in the Government – which has faced a barrage of criticism for having Europe’s worst death toll – has dropped since the start of the pandemic and people no longer have the same fear of the virus, the papers cautioned.
The same document revealed that a staggering 35 per cent of people – more than a third – still don’t know that coughing and a fever are the two tell-tale symptoms of Covid-19.
Another paper revealed scientists consider public toilets to be one of the highest risk areas for catching the coronavirus. They say using them is riskier than touching door handles in public or using cash machines.
And while being within two metres (6’7″) of someone presents the biggest risk of catching the virus, there is still a risk of it transmitting if someone is 10m (32′) away, one report said.
And a third advice paper said measuring the reproduction rate of the virus – the R – will not be useful now that the outbreak has shrunk, and definitely not on a regional level.
The findings in SAGE papers published today include:
- Behavioural scientists warned trying to reintroduce lockdown rules after lifting them ‘might evoke various responses’ because people disagree over whether they’re necessary;
- Many people ‘lack a basic understanding of Covid-19’ and only 65 per cent can identify the main symptoms, researchers said. They added that people are ‘confused by rapidly changing government guidance and do not fully understand the rationale for it’;
- The coronavirus may be able to spread between people who are 10 metres (32 feet) apart, but the highest risk is when people are within 2m (6’7″) of others;
- A huge study of 64,066 Covid-19 hospital patients in the UK found that 28 per cent of them died. Patients spent nine days in hospital, on average, and 16 per cent needed high-flow oxygen treatment;
- Regional R rate comparisons are not an accurate way of measuring where hotspots are, and the national rate is only vague once case numbers have dropped.
The Government has been warned that they could face ‘visible resistance’ to further lockdown measures and that people aren’t as afraid of Covid-19 as they were in March (Pictured, Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Downing Street press briefing on July 3)
Officials may struggle to reimpose lockdown measures
One of the key reports in today’s batch of the papers, which are now released weekly as part of a transparency drive, was from the group SPI-B, which reports to SAGE.
SPI-B, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Behaviour, advises the Government about human behaviour and issues it might face dealing with people.
The report, dated June and titled ‘Consensus on reintroduction of measures and their impact on rate of infection’, said: ‘From a behavioural perspective, reintroduction of measures might evoke various responses from the population – silent compliance, critical compliance or visible resistance (eg. from marginalised groups, young people).
‘Policy and communication need to take these different forms of response into account in order to be successful.
‘Several factors should be considered when deciding what measures to introduce and how to introduce them. These apply equally at a national level, and at a more local level.’
The scientists started by saying many people were likely to change their own behaviour without being forced to do so, if told they were at risk of infection.
They said these would be gradual changes rather than sudden ones and that enforcement might be needed to speed them up.
The main concern they raised was that the ‘psychological context’ of any future lockdowns will be different to what it was in March, when the country was facing the unknown and thousands of people were catching the disease every day.
SPI-B’s report said: ‘Disagreements about the appropriate response to the pandemic are likely to complicate any attempt to reimpose restrictions.’
And it added: ‘There has been an increase in resistance to social distancing measures in recent weeks…
‘This is particularly pronounced in the case of certain demographics and communities which have borne the brunt of lockdown but in some cases are at less at risk, e.g. younger people.
‘However, the drivers of resistance transcend inter-generational and structural inequality and express a hierarchy of priorities which relegates Covid to other concerns such as the right to social interaction (free parties) and the right to protest (e.g. Black Lives Matter).’
Experts say young people are tiring of social distancing and abandoning the rules, while disagreements about the UK’s approach to Covid-19 mean the public will be less likely to follow advice in future (Pictured: Social distancing went out the window on Super Saturday, July 4, when huge crowds formed in Soho in London)
Many people ‘lack a basic understanding of Covid-19’
Despite the coronavirus dominating public life for the past four months behavioural scientists say many people still lack a basic understanding of the virus.
Referring to a study by King’s College London, SPI-B warned that only 65 per cent of people can correctly identify a cough and a fever as the main symptoms of Covid-19.
PARTIES AND RAVES ARE ‘EXACTLY WHAT WE DON’T WANT TO SEE’, SAYS CHIEF MEDIC
Dr Jenny Harries, the Government’s chief medical officer for England, said earlier this week that she was worried about seeing parties and raves taking place across the country.
As lockdown rules have eased photos and videos have emerged of hundreds of young people drinking and partying together in cities around the UK.
Dr Harries said that everyone must continue to follow coronavirus advice on hand-washing and socialising, as well as sticking to social distancing.
‘The virus is still out there, it’s looking for more people to infect and we need to stop it getting a grip,’ she said.
Dr Jenny Harries on This Morning this week
The chief medic told ITV’s This Morning she was ‘very, very concerned’ about second wave of the virus, adding: ‘I don’t want to label young people because that would be very unfair, but actually if you do not have friends who have become very ill, for example, it perhaps hasn’t registered quite as much how dangerous this virus can be and young people definitely are not as severely affected.
‘Raves worry me, as a public health doctor. That’s exactly what we do not want to be happening.
‘The death rate definitely is coming down but effectively what we’ve seen is the first peak, and we want to prevent a second one.
‘Because the weather is slightly with us, it’s quite likely that the summer is sort of running a bit in our favour.
‘In the warmer weather, particularly when people are outdoors much more – which is much safer – we’re unlikely to see one.
‘But I think myself and colleagues are very, very concerned about looking out for a potential second peak as we move into the autumn.
‘And of course that’s the same time that we start having people presenting with other symptoms which could confuse people – so flu symptoms vary, obviously, and also when our hospitals get busier.’
This could affect the likelihood of infected people getting tested for the virus, and may also been people don’t self-isolate when they should.
The report said: ‘Many people are confused by rapidly changing government guidance and do not fully understand the rationale for it, which makes it less likely that they will be intrinsically motivated to undertake and sufficiently skilled in implementing effective infection control.’
Virus could spread 10 metres through air, and public toilets are medium risk
A paper presented to SAGE by the expert group on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the wider environment (TWEG) on June 12 shone light on the most likely modes of the coronavirus spreading.
The report maintained that the biggest risk for people is coming within 2metres (6’7″) of other people who might have the illness – not obeying social distancing.
It is possible, they said, that droplets carrying the virus could transmit 10m (32′) through the air.
They ruled that the risk of this was ‘very low’ but they were not certain because of the quality of evidence backing it up.
Using public toilets, meanwhile, posed a ‘medium’ risk for people’s likelihood of catching Covid-19.
TWEG’s report ranked the risk higher than it did for touching door handles or cash machines in public places, and also higher than for swimming in public.
It said: ‘Public toilets represent a potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure point for a number of reasons.
‘Primary amongst these is that they contain many touch surfaces which could be contaminated with infective nasopharyngeal [throat] fluids or faecal material and to which many people are exposed in a short time period.
‘Toilets also represent the point at which the amount of infectious virus might be greatest in waste water. Aerosol, faecal/ocular, and faecal/oral transmission risks have been hypothesised based on virus presence and evidence exists based on previous SARS-CoV outbreaks.
‘In addition, toilets may be a contact hub point in the community where transmission can occur between users through face-to-face droplet transmission, in the toilet building itself, and in proximity.’
More than a quarter of hospitalised UK Covid-19 patients die
A study of 64,066 hospital patients with Covid-19 in the UK found that 28 per cent of them – more than one in four – die with the disease.
Deaths were higher for people admitted to intensive care, of whom 35 per cent succumbed to the disease, and even higher for those who had to be put onto ventilators – 42 per cent.
The COVID-19 Clinical Information Network (CO-CIN), comprised of university experts from around the UK, presented the results to SAGE from June 22.
The study had found people spend an average of nine days in hospital if they are admitted with coronavirus, or catch it while on a ward.
Some 16 per cent of patients require high-flow oxygen therapy to help them breathe.
The most common symptoms for hospital patients are coughs (63 per cent), fever (62 per cent) and shortness of breath (61 per cent) – but a worrying one in 16 people (6 per cent) claimed to have had no symptoms at all, the study found.
Cough, fever and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms among Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital in the UK but a worrying six per cent had no symptoms at all, according to a study of more than 50,000 people
Measuring the R rate is no longer a useful measures – especially not at a regional level
Another group that advises SAGE, SPI-M-O, issued caveats to its estimates of the R value of the coronavirus in the UK on June 12.
SPI-M-O is the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational, and advises the Government on the possible trajectory of the outbreak.
When giving its estimates of the R value – the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – it cautioned that the figures are not useful when there are small numbers of people testing positive.
The R rate is currently between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, meaning that every 10 infected people pass the virus on to between seven and nine others, on average.
But SPI-M-O warned: ‘Estimates of R are less reliable and less useful in determining the state of the epidemic as cases decrease. There are three main reasons for this:
‘Firstly, when there are few cases, R is impossible to estimate with accuracy and will have wide confidence intervals that are likely to include 1. This does not necessarily mean that the epidemic is increasing but could be the result of greater uncertainty.
‘Secondly, as incidence decreases, R will tend towards 1, and has to be evaluated in conjunction with incidence. The policy implications of R = 1 when there are 1,000 new infections per day are very different to when there are 100,000 per day.
‘Finally, R is an average measure. When incidence is low, an outbreak in one place could result in estimates of R for the entire region to become higher than 1. Conversely, small, local outbreaks will not be detected. Estimates of R based on small numbers may also not capture change in the area fast enough to inform policy in a useful way.’
The scientists said they were so unconvinced about the accuracy or usefulness of measuring the reproduction rate that it shouldn’t be used for policy decisions such as imposing regional restrictions or lockdowns.
They added: ‘Estimates of R at regional levels are subject to the same difficulties in interpretation of national estimates, but amplified because of the smaller numbers of cases.
‘Publishing large numbers of estimates increases the statistical chance that one of them is artificially high. SPI-M-O does not have confidence that regional R estimates are sufficiently robust to inform regional policy decisions.’
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