Go to work if you want – but no one will be forced to return to the office

Shoppers are back in the town centre but businesses are still waiting for a retrun of the "Lunchtime

Shoppers are back in the town centre but businesses are still waiting for a retrun of the "Lunchtime economy". Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said workers and their employers can think about returning to offices or normal workplaces – but if they are able to continue to work from home they would not be forced to go back.

But he did say public transport was now available for anyone who wanted to travel by train or bus – although people might want to consider alternative methods of travel and face coverings are to remain compulsory.

MORE: Public transport available to everyone

Earlier this week there had been reports that the government could be firmer about people returning to workplaces because of the economic impact on town and city centres of workers staying away – but Mr Johnson said it was not for the government to tell workers or their employers where they should work.

In Ipswich town centre, business has barely returned to 60% of pre-lockdown levels and many traders believe the loss of the “lunchtime economy” with office staff visiting shops, cafes and takeaways has been a feature of the sluggish recovery.

He announced some additional relaxations to lockdown – with more leisure centres, skating rinks, casinos, and some personal services like beauticians able to do more work. However indoor soft play areas and nightclubs will have to stay closed until November at least.

Trial reopenings of some theatres in August could allow a limited audience to go to the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield which starts on July 31. But with theatres having to look at social distancing measures before they can reopening, we are still some way from the curtains being raised all over the country – and shows with public participation like pantomimes could be very difficult to stage.

But the Prime Minister did hope that, providing there was no serious national second spike of the infection, that life could return to something like normality by the end of the year.

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He said: “It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November, at the earliest, possibly in time for Christmas.”

Local councils in frontline of battle against a new spike in Covid-19

Local authorities are to be given sweeping new powers to close premises, streets, or even whole communities if there is a spike in Covid-19 cases in their area – but they’ll have to wait until next week to find out exactly how they will work.

In areas, like Suffolk and most of Essex, where there is a two-tier system it is likely to be the county council which takes the lead on this as the authority responsible for public health – but it would be expected to work with other public sector bodies like the NHS, police and district councils through the local resilience forum.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “At the moment we really only know what was said at the Prime Minister’s briefing but we have been told to expect more guidance early next week.”

The powers are expected to be aimed at preventing a repetition of the situation in Leicester where lockdown restrictions had to be reimposed because of a delay in identifying a rise in cases.

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