People should continue to work from home for the next four to six weeks if they are able to do so amid surging cases of coronavirus, a key figure at Public Health England has urged.
As Boris Johnson prepares to drop the work-from-home guidance on 19 July, alongside vast swathes of legal restrictions, Dr Susan Hopkins warned the country was “approximately three doubling times away from the peak” of the third wave.
She added if the R rate of transmission exceeded 2, it would be “high likely” the country would see “very high numbers of hospital admissions”. On 6 July, 563 patients were admitted to hospital in the UK.
Speaking to Times Radio, the PHE adviser, who has made regular appearances at the No 10 Covid briefings, said she recognised the government was “very keen” to get people back to the office.
“But I think over the next four to six weeks that needs to be very cautiously implemented by businesses to keep transmission down,” she insisted.
Dr Hopkins added: “There are advantages to being in workplaces and many people have to go into workplaces.
“If you are able to do your business effectively from home then I think over the next four to six weeks, with a rise in cases, we should try our best to do that. Then we should continue to look and see and have a cautious return to the office over the coming weeks once we start to see a decline in the number of cases.”
Earlier this week, chancellor Rishi Sunak said he was looking forward to people returning to offices and stressed the benefits to workers from being with their colleagues, particularly for the young, while the prime minister also told a press conference last week: “It will no longer be necessary for the government to instruct people to work from home, so employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace.”
Dr Hopkins’ comments came after the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said the government would be issuing guidance on Monday stating that people will be “expected” to continue wearing face masks in enclosed public spaces when restrictions are dropped.
Dr Hopkins said she would “strongly advise” people to continue to wear face coverings, “in crowded spaces, especially amongst people you don’t know personally and aren’t part of your household, or your close contacts”.
She added: “I would also advise them on public transport. Because that is often the private space where you don’t have any idea who you’re in contact with. They prevent the infection that you may have unknowingly spread to others.”