'Third wave' | Gov advisers warn against rushing back to offices

Gov advisers warn against rushing back to offices

Despite the Prime Minister’s encouragement to get workers back into offices this summer, senior Government advisers have warned against this.

Members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have cautioned against workers from returning amid fears that doing so would contribute to kickstarting a third wave.

According to The Times, Sage has argued that working from home is an easy and relatively cheap way to reduce contact and helps to keep any resurgence of coronavirus at a low.

Currently, employees are advised to continue working from home unless they have to be in an office to do their job. However, come June 21 – the date the Government has set for the final restrictions to be lifted – the former guidance to stay at home will be lifted.

This encouragement comes after Johnson previously expressed concern over empty city centres and struggling high streets. In fact, last July, the PM stated that rather than advising people to stay at home, “I think we should now say, ‘go back to work if you can”.

A senior source advising the Government has told The Times that any mass return to offices would be a bad idea, indicating that this should be halted at least until the effects of a broader opening are better understood.

This is because working in an office environment and commuting greatly increases the risk of infection due to an increase in contact.

Ian Boyd, a member of Sage and a professor at the University of St Andrews, concurred with this: “Based on the information I have seen we should not become blasé about the capacity of the virus to jump back at us. Retaining sensible measures to reduce the rate of non-essential contact between people is proportionate in the circumstances.”

On the other hand, Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of Spi-M, the Sage modeling committee, shared that while social distancing measures may still be important, a return to normality is also necessary for the mental health of today’s workforce.

“People working from home will reduce risk of infection but at some point, we also need to have some kind of return to normality from a mental health and wellbeing perspective,” Tildesley added.

From our content partner

Elsewhere, Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh, and also a member of Spi-M, noted that a future goal should be to increase the speed of a return to normality. He said: “If workplaces can be made Covid-safe then many would see that as preferable to keeping people working at home.

“The Government hasn’t made clear what public health benefit they think will be gained by waiting until June 21 to ‘return to normal’. Progress on vaccination and the state of the epidemic are both far better than anyone was anticipating when the road map was set out.

“If the phrase ‘data not dates’ means anything then positive data must imply earlier relaxation of restrictions. My personal view is that some – but not all – of the relaxations scheduled for June 21 could happen much sooner. What are we waiting for?”

Have you enjoyed this piece?

Subscribe now to myGrapevine+ and get access to exclusive new content, and the full content archive.

Be the first to comment.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.