After days of debate among cabinet ministers and serious warnings about the possibility of an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases from the government's chief scientific advisers, on 22 September the prime minister announced a series of new coronavirus restrictions.
Under these new restrictions, people in England have now been told that they should work from home if they can. The prime minister has said that those working in key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible should continue to attend their workplaces.
Under the new measures, Michael Gove has commented that whilst workplaces are now safer than previously, 'one of the risks that we have to face is that social mixing overall contributes to the spread of the virus. So as much as we can restrain that as possible at this stage, the better for all of us and for public health'.
This represents a U-turn in the government's previous advice to office workers. In July, the prime minister stated that people should 'start to go back to work now if you can'. This statement was followed by a campaign from the government to encourage people back to the workplace, with employers being asked to take measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Following this campaign, as the BBC has reported, the percentage of people travelling to work had risen above 60% for the first time in September. According to the Office for National Statistics, on 17 September 62% of adult workers were commuting to their workplace, up from 36% in May.
Understandably, these new measures have left employers looking at whether they need to reverse or revise their return to the office plans. Many businesses will have set up and implemented systems to minimise the risk to employees in the workplace and to reassure employees that they can return to the office. However, the Financial Times has reported today that several major employers of tens of thousands of people have said that they will now reassess their plans in line with the new government advice.
The Office for National Statistics said on 17 September that 62% of adult workers were now commuting to their workplace, up from 36% in May.