The Treasury is planning to ‘get Britain back to work’ in a matter of weeks with new health and safety rules to be enforced in offices, it has been reported.
McDonald’s, British Steel and construction firm Persimmon were among the first high-profile companies to announce their intention to reopen in May, as the daily number of new cases of coronavirus should be in the low thousands by then.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been look at way to start allowing non-essential businesses to reopen in a ‘safe and practical way’, keeping coronavirus out of shared office spaces
Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, said Persimmon’s decision to reopen sites was ‘another big step forward for housing and construction’.
Car manufacturers Nissan, Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover have also said they will reopen their factories with strict safety measures in place following talks with the Government.
Government rules being drafted at the moment are believed to include forcing businesses to put up social distancing notices, close communal space and supply hand sanitising products.
If staff show any symptoms of coronavirus then they should to be told to go home.
Manufacturers BMW, Toyota, JCB and Caterpillar have also been involved in Government talks, with officials suggesting workers wear perspex shields on production lines as their own form of personal protective equipment.
It comes amid claims businesses are being advised by ministers on how to get employees back to work, as it is believed some firms reacted too strongly to the lockdown restrictions imposed in March.
There is growing concern over the extent of the economic impact of the lockdown if companies are not allowed to return in the next weeks.
UK retail sales fell by the most on record in March, according to Office for National Statistics figures. Clothing sales saw the biggest slump of over a third, and overall sales volumes plunged by 5.1 per cent in March from February.
A Downing Street source said: ‘If people are within the rules and follow social distancing guidance, we are more than happy for businesses to resume on that basis.’
Scientific advisers have told ministers that Britain should be in a position to begin lifting the lockdown in the middle of May, according to the Telegraph.
The group from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have created a report on the proposed plan of action for Boris Johnson, who is due back in Downing Street next week after recovering at Chequers.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that Mr Johnson was ‘raring to go’, according to the Times, and whose return as the decision maker could mean a dramatic push forward in the government’s choice of exit strategy from the lockdown.
Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock have however both been described as ‘doves’ for their cautiousness about bringing an end to the lockdown too quickly, to avoid the potential of a second wave of infections.
Business leaders are understood to have been told recently by one of Mr Johnson’s most senior advisers, Sir Eddie Lister, that the government was examining the possibility of people returning to work under broad categories of type of industry, age and region.
But indications from recent press briefing suggest that the Government now wants a UK-wide approach.
Ministers are said to be sensitive to the need to ‘take the public with us’ when changing policy on the lockdown, which could indicate informally relaxing restrictions before bringing in a policy change to move in that direction.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has been tasked with devising a strategy for each sector of the economy to get people back to work without putting public health at risk.
Mr Sharma and other ministers from his department are holding daily virtual meetings with business leaders to work out ways their staff can get back to factories, construction sites or offices without breaking social distancing rules.
The government is next legally obliged to review the lockdown restrictions on May 7.