Work-from-home advice dropped as Freedom Day confirmed for 19 July

The UK government will no longer instruct people to work from home, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to confirm that the economy will undergo a mass opening on 19 July.

Businesses can start to plan for a return to the office, with individual employers allowed to decide on the best course of action going forward after what is being dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ in two weeks’ time.

Step four of the roadmap out of Covid-19 lockdowns from the UK will include discontinuing the secure working guidance that has been in place.

Instead, this will be replaced by shorter work-safety guidance, which will potentially sit under the health and safety regime in place before the pandemic.

While that guidance will include notifying employers of mitigation measures such as ventilation that can help stop the spread of the virus, employers will have more discretion over how they limit the risks of transmission.

The news will come as a boost to major banks such as JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, which had been lining up a return to in-person work for their staff.

Social distancing, masks

The one-metre plus rule for social-distancing measures will be lifted, and no facemasks will be required in communal spaces or on public transport into work — though the government’s guidance will note that individuals may still choose to do so in enclosed spaces should they wish.

Businesses such as nightclubs will be allowed to open as all restrictions on live events are dropped.

While a final decision will be taken on 12 July, the government is announcing the plans now to give “business and the public as much time as possible to prepare”, a government spokesperson said.

“We must find a new way of living with the virus,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to tell a press conference at 5pm on 5 July.

The change of tack comes as the UK has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases, fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India.

According to the latest government figures, on 4 July there were 24,248 new coronavirus cases, with 15 deaths within 28 days of a positive test. More than 45 million people have had their first dose across the country and 33.6 million are fully vaccinated as of 3 July.

The government has been rocked by scandals recently, with former health secretary Matt Hancock stepping down after a video was released of him in a romantic embrace with an adviser during lockdown, and ex-Prime Minister David Cameron’s lobbying of government on behalf of collapsed supply chain financing firm Greensill scrutinised by parliament around emergency Covid-19 loans.

While there is still widespread uptake of the jab and adherence to lockdown rules in the UK, many commentators have argued that Hancock’s violation of social-distancing mandates could be a turning point in the public’s desire to keep abiding by the roadmap.

Hancock was replaced by former chancellor Sajid Javid, who has taken a much more open line on the UK needing to learn to “live with” the coronavirus.

READ Government has ‘no intention’ of making the return to the office compulsory

Before the last phase of the roadmap on 19 July, the government’s review into social distancing, led by the Cabinet Office, will be published and will be crucial for companies setting out their hybrid working plans.

On 18 June, minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News that the government has “no intention” of making it compulsory to return to the office.

To contact the authors of this story with feedback or news, email Bérengère Sim and Justin Cash

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