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THE Tory government was forced into another massive U-turn today as it advised people to work from home if they possibly can.
Ministers — in tandem with the right-wing press — had spent weeks encouraging home-workers to return to workplaces despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
But PM Boris Johnson axed that policy in a Commons address today, as part of a string of new measures which he said could last up to six months.
Announcing the measures today, the PM told MPs: “First, office workers are being asked to work from home. But if people need to go to work, they should continue to do so.”
Pubs and restaurants in England will have to close at 10pm each night from Thursday and masks will have to be worn in hospitality settings by staff and customers except when they are eating or drinking.
Covid-19 cases have quadrupled from about 1,000 new infections per day last month to 3,929, the latest figures showed.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that all household visits will be banned across the country from Wednesday and a “strict nationwide curfew” for pubs and restaurants will begin at 10pm on Friday.
And First Minister Mark Drakeford indicated that people in Wales could soon be asked to make essential journeys only.
Some 80 per cent of civil servants were supposed to return to work by the end of September as part of the Tories’ back-to-work push, but Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove admitted to Sky News that these plans had also been scrapped.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of Civil Service union PCS, said: “Our union, which was vilified in certain sections of the media for standing up for the safety of civil servants, has been vindicated by this government U-turn.
“We have been telling government for weeks that lessons from other countries meant forced return to workplaces in the civil service was reckless and wrong.
“Following the latest official scientific advice pointing to a second spike of Covid-19 infections over winter, it is clear if people can work from home, they should do, until the government has got control of the virus.”
Trade unions also pointed out that the restrictions come just over a month before the government plans to end the furlough scheme.
Unite leader Len McCluskey warned that communities face ruin if the new measures are not met with financial support for workers and businesses.
“Without such assistance, and delivered within days not weeks, then this government will be the architect of the community destruction and human despair that will surely follow,” he said.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s clear that this pandemic will not be over by Christmas – so neither should state support for jobs be.
“The PM says that he will put his arms around the workforce. Let’s see him prove it.”
The government’s early handling of the pandemic also came under further scrutiny today after new figures showed the fatal cost of delaying lockdown.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed that seven in 10 Covid-19 deaths among working-age adults between March 9 and June 20 were likely the result of pre-lockdown infections.
Keep Our NHS Pubic co-chair Dr Tony O’Sullivan told the Morning Star: “These figures show that the dereliction of leadership and slow response of the government to set up contact tracing and lockdown led to thousands of working people dying.
“And we know, a disproportionate number are BAME people and those in frontline, poorly paid work. The government failures then have still not been corrected and test and trace remains a national scandal putting private outsourcing above public health.”
GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “These figures should give pause for thought. Too many have paid the ultimate price, and we must now get answers on how many of these deaths were avoidable.”
Labour MP Richard Burgon told the Morning Star of the Tories’ early strategy: “Despite advice and warnings from scientists, they delayed in locking down, seemingly influenced by Boris Johnson’s right-wing libertarian instincts as extremists flirted with ‘herd immunity’.
“It’s heartbreaking to think of all the lives unnecessarily lost as a result of that delay and the irresponsible messaging and the failures on PPE and testing, tracking and tracing since.
“To avoid a continuation this winter of the failure and of the tens of thousands of lives unnecessarily lost, the government must now ditch its failed strategy and pursue a zero-Covid approach instead.”
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