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Businesses demand ‘urgent clarity’ from Boris on how to reopen offices

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Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has admitted that the government is not in a rush to stop people working from home because empty offices will help it meet its ‘housing objectives’. 

The admission comes amid mounting fury from business leaders who called for ‘urgent’ clarity on the Prime Minister’s vague and half-baked guidance to get millions of Britons back into the office from July 19, as lawyers told MailOnline that workers who refuse to return could be sacked. 

Now, in a startling admission, the Housing Secretary has said that it is unlikely that office working would return to exactly how it was prior to the pandemic, but claimed that the change could be beneficial in other areas.

He said today: ‘It will help us to do office-to-residential conversion, and meet our housing objectives on brownfield sites. It will also help us with levelling up, because people being able to work remotely will make it more viable for people to live in more rural communities in smaller towns and commute less regularly than they used to do.’

Mr Johnson announced last night that people in England will no longer have to work from home as of July 19 but the lack of detail on workplace safety, test and trace and international travel was slammed by industry bosses who warned it will cause a ‘huge headache’ for firms and could ‘undermine the confidence’ of many workers heading into the office for the first time in 18 months.

Both the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses have expressed their dissatisfaction at the lack of detail, especially on the use of masks, testing, temperature taking and social distancing on the office floor, in lifts and corridors. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid triggered further fury today as he revealed the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate will not be dropped until August 16 – leaving businesses on the brink of disaster at the prospect of ‘massive’ staff absence with millions forced to self-isolate. 

The remarks drew more criticism, with Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, telling MailOnline: ‘Government needs to ensure there is the right balance of land for jobs as well as homes. Although many businesses may use physical premises differently, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will need less space. 

‘In many local economies across the country, firms are already struggling to find quality land and premises for their growth needs. Simply converting vacant business space to residential, without planning for employment, will store up big problems for the future, jeopardising jobs and private sector investment.’  

Despite increasing pressure from businesses, No 10 said today there is still no ‘specific date’ for when their full working safely guidance will be published, saying it will be published ‘in due course’, as a study revealed that 2.5million workers say they’ll never feel comfortable returning to the office.  

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses of all sizes were still lacking the ‘full picture they desperately need to plan for unlocking’.

She said: ‘Much remains in the balance, firms do not yet know the future of self-isolation rules, if testing will remain free for them, or when international travel will open up effectively.

‘Without clear guidance for businesses around the new proposals, there could be real uncertainty on how they should operate going forward and what they should be doing to keep staff and their customers safe.’  

One advertising boss, Chris Hirst, from Havas Creative, said that he believes that he must now accept that his 1,800 staff will only be in the office ‘two or three days a week’ because he can’t force them to return. The Bank of England meanwhile announced it only wants staff to work in the office one day a week from September.  

Mr Johnson announced last night that people in England will no longer have to work from home – but there will be no rush to get people back to the office and no Government campaign encouraging them do so. 

And unions have now ramped up the pressure to cement the shift towards working from home, demanding that ministers must now bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job, in the UK. 

But lawyers have told MailOnline that from July 19 businesses could sack staff who refuse to come back to work – and potentially force them to wear masks – but employees could sue if they fall ill with Covid after their bosses had not properly protected them or they were discriminated against.

Steven Mather, consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, said: ‘It would be reasonable for an employer to require staff to go into the office and, if the employee refused, they could potentially be dismissed. 

‘The employee would need to be able to show that the requirement to attend the office was a danger, which they wouldn’t be able to do as the government guidance on it is that it is fine, and therefore unless there was an element of discrimination involved there would be no claim, in my opinion, that an employee could bring. The employer, by the way, would need to follow a fair and proper procedure before disciplining anyone’.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick admitted today that people working from home could help the government meet housing objectives

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick admitted today that people working from home could help the government meet housing objectives

The Government's guidance on returning to work is only around 100 words - with large swathes of questions unanswered including over social distancing, masks and health checks such as temperature taking and testing

The Government’s guidance on returning to work is only around 100 words – with large swathes of questions unanswered including over social distancing, masks and health checks such as temperature taking and testing

Chris Hirst, from Havas Creative, said today that he believes that he must no accept that his 1,800 staff will only be in the office 'two or three days a week' because he couldn't now force them to return.

Shevaun Haviland

Chris Hirst, from Havas Creative, said today that he believes that he must no accept that his 1,800 staff will only be in the office ‘two or three days a week’ because he couldn’t now force them to return. Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses of all sizes were still lacking the ‘full picture they desperately need to plan for unlocking’

Boris Johnson has been accused of not giving businesses much of the guidance they need to keep staff safe and get their offices open again

Boris Johnson has been accused of not giving businesses much of the guidance they need to keep staff safe and get their offices open again

There was further confusion today as Mr Jenrick insisted businesses now have the backing of a ‘strong Government message’ when it comes to encouraging their staff back to offices – but Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng then said ministers shouldn’t be telling people where to work.

Speaking on a visit to Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port car plant in Cheshire, Mr Kwarteng said: ‘There’s always a balance here. I think we have to reach a point where a degree of commons sense and proportion has to be used.

‘And I think that employees, employers, can come to their own arrangements, they understand their workforce, they understand the environment in which they are working and I would expect them to come to sensible arrangements and I think that’s where we’re heading’. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid gave more mixed messages by confirming that masks will not be mandatory in a fortnight’s time before adding he will be carrying one with him at all times away from home and will wear them in crowded and confined spaces. 

So what WILL office rules be when WFH order ends? Hand-sanitiser and avoiding ‘unnecessary contact’ – what workers can expect and what STILL isn’t clear about return to desks 

Boris Johnson’s new guidance on returning to the office amounts to around 100 words – and around three paragraphs.

It says that businesses welcoming people back to the office should: 

  • Ensure workers who feel ill or self-isolating cannot be forced into the office; 
  • A focus on hand hygiene, such as hand sanitser, and regular cleaning of desks and common areas 
  • Businesses should still find ways to avoid ‘unnecessary contact’ – but no clarity on social distancing, one way systems or gaps between work stations;
  • Ensure good ventilation and use CO2 monitors to monitor it;
  • Use outside space ‘where practical’;

And what is not clear from the guidance….

Can my boss force me to wear a mask?   

Probably, yes. 

Lawyers believe a reasonable request for a worker to wear a mask is hard for a worker to reject, and they could be disciplined or sacked if they do. 

Many pubs are expected to ask staff in the kitchen and front of house to wear masks – as will some hairdresser and beauticians. 

The Working Safely guidance (applicable in England) recommends that face coverings should be worn in certain workplaces, such as the care sector or in the NHS.

Previous guidance for offices says it may be appropriate to wear face coverings in some office settings – but there is no diktat.   

However, legal experts believe if an employer makes a reasonable request then an employee is unlikely to be able to say no, unless they have a medical exemption.

Steven Mather, consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, said: ‘I can envisage a situation where some shops and in particular hospitality, continue to require their staff to wear masks for customers protection. If that were to happen, then my view would be that the employer’s mandate to its employees would override the Government’s more laisse faire approach. 

‘If an employee refused to wear a mask ‘because it wasn’t law’, then they could still be reasonably sanctioned by their employer (including being dismissed) because it was a reasonable instruction from their employer. Provided there was no discrimination taking place, the employer would be able to force staff to wear a mask’.  

Can I be forced to work in the office?

Yes. The government guidance to work from home where possible will go on July 19.

Previously companies were warned they may potentially find themselves at risk of prosecution for encouraging their employees to commit an offence by coming in.

This threat will now disappear in a fortnight.

What if an employee refuses?

If they are not being put in danger, then anyone can be disciplined and eventually sacked. 

Steven Mather, consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, said: ‘It would be reasonable for an employer to require staff to go into the office and, if the employee refused, they could potentially be dismissed. 

‘The employee would need to be able to show that the requirement to attend the office was a danger, which they wouldn’t be able to do as the government guidance on it is that it is fine, and therefore unless there was an element of discrimination involved there would be no claim, in my opinion, that an employee could bring. The employer, by the way, would need to follow a fair and proper procedure before disciplining anyone’.

What if I think my office is unsafe?

Staff who believe that their office fails to meet certain safety standards may try argue that they should stay at home.

The Government’s guidance is light on detail, but does talk about hand hygiene and enhanced cleaning.

A worker who finds their officer is not regularly cleaned and disinfected, and that hand sanitiser is not provided, could argue they may stay at home until basic standard are met, lawyers say.

Can I sue my employer if I get covid?

Yes. For an employee to sue the employer they must prove that some form of negligence occurred on the employers’ part.

Firstly the employee will still have to demonstrate that they actually caught coronavirus in the workplace, and show they complied with all workplace rules as it is possible that the employee caught coronavirus whilst travelling on public transport, from a family member or a friend whom they’ve had close contact with.

An employer can be found negligent if they don’t implement all appropriate Covid-Secure measures, ask staff to work in a potentially dangerous way or fail to ensure that staff follow the rules.

But that doesn’t mean the employee is on to a winner, it will be very challenging to prove they got covid at work – especially with a commute. 

What Covid measures is my company required to follow? Will I be tested in the office?

The Government’s guidance doesn’t contain any diktats on measures for the office.

Many offices may choose to check the temperature of staff when they arrive for work.

While some bosses have set up testing for staff, this is expensive and may not continue.

How much notice should I get to return to the office? 

There is no concrete rule – but a business should give a minimum of 48 hours’ notice.

What if I have to self-isolate after July 19? 

The guidance is is very clear for those with coronavirus symptoms: stay at home. 

You cannot be dismissed, as this would amount to unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996. You can expect to be paid statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day you are off sick until you recover.

If you are not ill – but asked to self isolating, you may be expected to work from home on full pay.

I’m scared to return to work? Is that allowed?

Refusing to return to work because you are worried about the commute, for example, is not likely to be considered reasonable.

People would need to be signed off by their doctor and provide the necessary documents to their employer, who would deal with it as a health matter.

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses of all sizes were still lacking the ‘full picture they desperately need to plan for unlocking’.

She said: ‘Much remains in the balance, firms do not yet know the future of self-isolation rules, if testing will remain free for them, or when international travel will open up effectively.

‘Without clear guidance for businesses around the new proposals, there could be real uncertainty on how they should operate going forward and what they should be doing to keep staff and their customers safe.

‘This could lead to a fractured, patchwork approach with very different positions being taken by many businesses, across many locations. That, in turn, could severely undermine the public’s trust in reopening.

‘All of this means the huge logistical headache firms face around reopening hasn’t disappeared and there remains a real risk of damage to business confidence.’

Kate Allen, owner at luxury holiday lettings company, Salcombe Finest warned that some businesses might be destroyed by the delay to the end of isolation for the double-jabbed.

‘We may have Freedom Day this month, but until August 16 comes, for many small businesses it’s like being on day release with an electronic tag,’ she said.

‘By mid-August, you’re at the tail end of the holiday season and not scrapping the rules sooner is causing a logistical nightmare for businesses like mine.

‘Housekeeping teams cannot continue to service holiday homes if they simply don’t have the numbers to do so because of self-isolation rules.

‘We are expecting many toys to be thrown out of multi-million pound prams for those unable to check-in to their luxury holiday homes.’

Matt Kilcoyne, deputy director of the Adam Smith Institute think tank, told MailOnline that the numbers of people being forced to self-isolate was ‘scary’.

‘What’s unforgivable is that the government knows the risks, and the potential to ratchet up exponentially as cases climb, and is delaying a change it knows is necessary to fit some pre-ordained date rather than amending the policy to fit the data.

‘When Boris announced that double dosed individuals will not have to isolate after coming into contact with a covid case from July 19th we all missed something truly important.

‘Either this policy is good to go now, or it’s not good to be implemented then. Keeping the app as is risks killing the economic recovery and passes the cost wholesale onto businesses, banks and families.

‘There is no shade of grey in this issue, either it is right to do and now or wrong to do. The strange wait-and-see attitude leaves the government on the wrong side of the science and our economy exposed.’

Claire Walker, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘We are already seeing issues for businesses related to staff having to self-isolate and some members are even struggling to stay open as a result. 

‘As instances of self-isolation are only likely to continue to rise between July 19th and the change to the requirements on August 16th, firms need to know how they are expected to cope in the intervening period. Businesses need to understand the rationale behind the decisions being made and need clear guidance on how they are expected to operate as these changes take effect.’

Businesses now have the backing of a ‘strong Government message’ when it comes to encouraging their staff back to offices, the Housing Secretary has said.

Robert Jenrick acknowledged that the work-from-home guidance had been tough for England’s towns and city centres because of a lack of footfall from the usual office workers and commuters.

Questioned on how councils could encourage firms to bring back their staff to offices in an effort to support high streets, Mr Jenrick said: ‘We have given quite clear signals to businesses now that they can encourage their workforce to return to the office if they wish to do so.

‘It will be a judgment for those businesses, we are not going to demand that they do so. Businesses will come to different conclusions.

The Housing Secretary said that it was unlikely that office working would return to exactly how it was prior to the pandemic, but said this change could be beneficial in other areas.

He explained: ‘It will help us to do office-to-residential conversion, and meet our housing objectives on brownfield sites.

‘It will also help us with levelling up, because people being able to work remotely will make it more viable for people to live in more rural communities in smaller towns and commute less regularly than they used to do’.

But thousands of businesses are in the dark about how best to prepare for July 19.  

The uncertainty about the return to offices, it also emerged today:

  • Self-isolation will not be dropped for the double-jabbed and children who are ‘pinged’ until AUGUST 16 as Sajid Javid says ‘wall of protection’ from vaccines means government can ‘look afresh’ at rules; 
  • But Mr Javid admitted coronavirus cases could top 100,000 a day by the summer as the government pushes ahead with the unlocking;
  • Leave voters are more likely to ditch face coverings when laws are axed as top Sage expert says shops should be allowed to bar people who refuse to cover up;
  • Chris Whitty says it’s better to get big bang of cases out of the way in summer when hospitals are less busy after SAGE modelling showed July was the ‘sweet spot’ for unlocking; 

The PM’s new guidance contains just three paragraphs for businesses, and refers them to Health and Safety Executive pandemic advice not updated since earlier this year. 

It has left businesses of all types, who have collectively spent millions on in-house testing, temperature machines, one-way systems and enhanced cleaning to get offices open, still unsure about what is required with just a fortnight until ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.

There are also legal concerns about whether they can force people back to work – and whether staff who fall ill with Covid on the way to the office, or in the workplace, will have a case to sue their employer.  

Others said clarity is urgently needed with a fortnight to go.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation Of Small Businesses, added: ‘Any celebrations will be on hold until we know what new operating rules will look like – we urgently need clarity.

‘Small firms have a host of questions they need answering in the next 14 days, among them: is this intervention confirmation enough to buy stock and get staff in place for the 19th?

‘What do I say to staff worried about the safety of public transport? Where do I stand if I lift all restrictions at my business and someone contracts COVID-19 on site? Do I tell staff the office is safe to reopen?

‘How will the rules around schooling and childcare change? What police protection will there be for me if I ask customers to follow safety procedures and they refuse? What infrastructure, like testing, will be kept in place for businesses?’

The Government has said it will expand on its guidance soon.  

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘I don’t have a specific date. Obviously we have been in regular contact with stakeholders about working safely guidance and update in due course’. 

At the moment the Government is limited to a few paragraphs, and much of it is aimed at hospitality rather than businesses. 

It says: ‘Businesses must not require a self-isolating worker to come to work, and should make sure that workers and customers who feel unwell do not attend the setting.

‘Businesses will be encouraged to ask staff and customers to clean their hands regularly and clean surfaces that people touch regularly. The Government will provide guidance on how businesses can reduce unnecessary contact in the workplace, where it is practical. 

‘Operators will still be encouraged to use outside space where practical, and to consider the supply of fresh air to indoor spaces. 

‘Carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors could be used to help identify where a space is poorly ventilated with businesses encouraged to take steps to improve ventilation if CO2 readings are consistently’.

Experts have predicted that the lack of detail could see businesses delay bringing staff back to the office to the Autumn or even next year.

Professor Denis Kinane, Immunologist and Chief Medical Officer of Cignpost Diagnostics said:’While the government has provided detailed guidance for how weddings, night clubs and sporting events can restart, there has been nothing for the vast majority of office-based organisations, other than the recommendation that working from home will continue for another two weeks.

‘Employers have a duty of care to protect employees. These measures can be considered in light of the vaccination status of employees and the level of infection in the community.

‘While many businesses will delay the return of employees until robust guidance is outlined, we can look to the experience of the organisations that have already begun to return critical workers to the office as the best way to understand the options available. Twice-weekly PCR testing regimes have been introduced effectively across many organisations as a practical and sensible way to give staff and their families continuous protection. It is also the best way to return to normality and end social distancing. As the vaccine rollout continues apace, and the level of infection in the community changes, we should adapt our testing process accordingly.’

Businesses have said they will no move to hybrid working going forward – with many telling staff they can work wherever they want.

Advertising chief Chris Hirst, from Havas Creative, says he expects all his 1,800 staff to work a mix.  

He said: ‘I will expect and hope that we will get to a place, and I think this is September at the earliest by the way, that we will have all of the people some of the time. 

‘My personal position has changed on this, if I’m being honest. If you asked me last April I would’ve said: ‘Our business will survive but we need to get everybody back into the office as quickly as we can’. 

‘I don’t think that’s the case anymore and I genuinely think there’s the possibility of a win-win. I do believe we will move to a hybrid working model and I think that would be to the benefit of employers and employees’.

He said that he will bring in ‘rules’ that ensure  staff are in ‘2 to 3 days per week’, adding: ‘Our position is we are going to suck it and see because at the moment we are right in the middle of the pandemic. 

‘We still are, even though the government is lifting restrictions, so we’re going to encourage people back to work with the view that we will expect the majority of our people to be in the office 2 or 3 days a week from September. 

‘But we reserve the right to change our mind on that in consultation with our employees because I don’t expect the way we work in September 2021 to be the same as September 2022 but I hesitate to try and predict what the future is going to be’.

Billionaire Apprentice host Lord Sugar wrote on Twitter: ‘Boris says it’s no longer necessary to work from home. So city people get back to the offices, let’s kick start the local economy for shops, cafes who suffered badly.

‘Some people may have become complacent liking this new style of working. Well those folk will never work for me.’

High street banks Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC have already said they will offer hybrid working, as have call centre operator Capita and British Gas owner Centrica.

A trade union boss urged Ministers to give all workers the same right to flexible working, or risk creating a new class divide.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘As the work from home guidance ends, employers must acknowledge that one size does not fit all.

‘No one should miss out on flexible working. Ministers must bring in a new right to flexible working for every worker, in every job.

‘Otherwise there will be a new class divide between those who can work flexibly from home, and those who can’t.’ One prominent businessman said he would not employ anyone who enjoyed the more relaxed lifestyle of working from home.’. 

Millions of people who have worked from home since March 2020 are expected to return to the workplace

Millions of people who have worked from home since March 2020 are expected to return to the workplace

Self-isolation will not be dropped for the double-jabbed and children who are ‘pinged’ until AUGUST 16 

Self-isolation will not be dropped for the double-jabbed who are ‘pinged’ for coming into contact with an infected person until August 16, Sajid Javid announced today.

The Health Secretary said the ‘protective wall’ thrown up by the vaccine drive meant that ministers can ‘look afresh’ at the contact tracing rules.

From the middle of next month people who have received two doses – with the second administered at least two weeks previously – can take PCR tests rather than self-isolating. Under-18s will also not be subject to the restrictions from the same date.

But the timetable is far slower than many had hoped, and potentially means huge numbers of people will still be caught after ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19.

Earlier, Mr Javid admitted coronavirus cases could top 100,000 a day by the summer as the government pushes ahead with the unlocking.

He gave the grim figure as he insisted Boris Johnson is right to continue with the dramatic endpoint on July 19, saying the hospitalisations and deaths were what mattered.

Boris Johnson announced yesterday that the requirement for employees to work from home wherever possible is set to be scrapped on July 19.

The guidance has been in force since the first lockdown in March 2020, leaving town and city centres ghost towns for more than a year and devastating trade in shops and cafes.

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street briefing: ‘It will no longer be necessary for Government to instruct people to work from home. So employers will be able to start planning a safe return to the workplace.’

A government review of social-distancing measures published at the same time claimed that the ‘WFH’ guidance had reduced the risk of Covid infection because it meant far fewer people using public transport or having face-to-face meetings.

It had created ‘positive impacts’ for commuters who saved time and money, while some companies benefited from a ‘happier workforce’ and spending less on office space.

Yet others suffered from ‘inadequate working conditions at home’ while bosses complained that the requirement to work from home was ‘stifling creativity’.

The report said it was now time to end the guidance as the rest of society was reopening, and noted that only 23 per cent of employees are now permanently working from home, down from 37 per cent in February.

However a Business Minister told MPs that the Government would not tell employers when they should make their workforces return to their old desks.

Paul Scully told the local government select committee: ‘There is so much to be gained in a workplace to be able to work alongside other people, especially for young people. I’ve seen people in my own offices propping a laptop on the end of their own bed when they haven’t got the homes and the resources to be able to work from home.’

He went on: ‘We want flexible working to become a default option wherever possible, but nonetheless flexible working isn’t the same as permanently working from home. That’s just living at work, frankly.

‘It’s not for us to mandate businesses to rush back to the workplace and say you’ve got to come back on this date.’

The John Lewis Partnership, which runs Waitrose as well as the department store chain, yesterday became the latest major employer to say that its head office employees will be allowed to decide where they spend their days.

Andrew Murphy, executive director of operations, said after the PM’s announcement: ‘If restrictions are lifted on July 19 we won’t tell our head office partners where to work. The pandemic has forced us all to rethink the norm of five days in an office.’

Shops that keep mandatory masks rules CAN legally turn away customers who refuse, say lawyers as bosses are left in fear of compensation claims from staff who get Covid at work

What do the biggest businesses say about masks?

Shops

  • Sainsbury’s: Chief Executive Simon Roberts said: ‘I think in the end it will come down to the choices that individual customers and colleagues want to make. It is going to be driven by customer and by colleague choice.’ He added: ‘We’re clearly going to follow the Government advice, we’ll continue to listen to our customers and colleagues and we’ll respect and support the individual choices the customers and colleagues want to make.’
  • Westfield: Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said: ‘At the moment we actively ensure our guests are wearing masks when they’re visiting the centre, and with the changes post July 19 we will continue to encourage guests to wear masks when they’re coming into the centre.’
  • Asda: Asda says it is waiting for the government guidance to change before announcing its role.

Airlines

  • British Airways: BA is expected to keep masks, with a spokesman saying: ‘We keep our policies under constant review.’ 
  • Tui: The firm hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.
  • Ryanair: A spokesman said: ‘In order to protect the health of our customers and crew, the use of face masks will still be mandatory across all Ryanair flights.’
  • easyJet: A spokesman said: ‘At present there are no changes to easyJet’s on-board mask policy. We continue to be guided by our in-house medical adviser and a number of key industry governing bodies… and at present their guidance around the wearing of masks on board remains unchanged.’
  • Virgin Atlantic: The firm hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.

Pubs

  • City Pub Group: Chief Executive Clive Watson said staff will be asked to wear masks with customers encouraged to do the same.

Shops, pubs and airlines that continue mandatory mask rules after July 19 have a legal right to turn away customers who refuse to wear a face covering, lawyers revealed today.

Legal experts warned owners can enforce them regardless of the government’s rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act.

Stores would be in breach of the law if they are prejudicial against someone if they cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition, but otherwise private firms are free to set their own rules.

It comes as leading retailers suggested they will encourage shoppers to wear a covering when entering their stores after July 19 – when lockdown is scheduled to be relaxed.

Westfield is among the stores which has already said it will ‘encourage’ customers to wear coverings after ‘Freedom Day’ but will not insist on it.

But Sainsbury’s adopted a more relaxed approach saying it will ‘respect and support the individual choices the customers and colleagues want to make’.

Popular airlines such as British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet said they will also keep coverings mandatory after the date.

And train workers’ unions are pushing for the mask measures to remain compulsory after restrictions are eased.

Meanwhile a major pub chain said it will still encourage coverings, social distancing and table service to ‘avoid a scrum at the bar’.

One lawyer pointed out businesses could insist staff wear them after July 19 for fear of a worker taking them to a tribunal under health and safety legislation if an outbreak leads to serious illness such as long Covid or death.

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers, said bosses have a legal duty to protect the health of their staff and the burden of safety has grown amid the pandemic.

And Steven Mather, consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, noted employers would be able to sack staff who refuse to wear a mask because it is a ‘a reasonable instruction’ and this would overrule the government’s slackened rules.

Boris Johnson last night triggered a row over face coverings as he ditched the legal diktat on their use but urged people to continue wearing them.

From July 19 they will no longer be required by law anywhere in England.

But at a Downing Street press conference last night, the Prime Minister suggested they should still be worn in crowded indoor places.

His top medical advisers Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance went further, saying they would continue to wear them in a variety of situations.

Legal experts warned owners can enforce mask wearing regardless of the government's rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act (file photo)

Legal experts warned owners can enforce mask wearing regardless of the government’s rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act (file photo)

Do face masks work? Studies find coverings reduce spread of Covid and chance of inhaling infected droplets

Most scientific studies conducted to date suggest face masks do reduce the spread of coronavirus in enclosed indoor settings.

A number of studies have concluded that face coverings reduce the spread of airborne droplets that carry covid bacteria between people.

The latest data, from the Lancet, studies in China and Thailand as well as on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, suggests a mask stops up to 80 per cent of droplets from being released into the air by a person wearing a mask, and they also block around 50 per cent of them being inhaled by a potential victim.

Covid-19 is spread through these airborne droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk – and standing in close proximity can assist transmission. 

The US Centers for Disease Control found in one real-world data experiment the coverings were useful. Two hair stylists who had Covid symptoms worked on 139 customers in eight days.

Everyone involved wore masks and no one out of the 67 who volunteered to be tested came back positive. Another experiment in China looked at 124 houses where there had been a case of the virus.

It found transmission was reduced by 79 per cent by wearing a face covering. And an example also came from the USS Theodore Roosevelt – a cramped vessel with tight living quarters and makes social distancing hard.

But the study found when using face coverings there was a 70 per cent reduced risk of infection. Meanwhile in Thailand a retrospective case-control study discovered out of 1,000 spoken to during a contact tracing probe, those who said they wore a covering had a 70 per cent reduced chance of catching Covid.

And the Lancet in its report looked at 172 studies from 16 countries and concluded wearing a mask gives a person just a three per cent chance of getting the virus. Edinburgh University looked into the different types of masks people can wear and found homemade ones can be effective.

Researchers tested seven types, including surgical masks, respirators, lightweight and heavy-duty face shields and handmade masks. All of them – except ones with a valve – reduced the distance droplets could get by at least 90 per cent.

The CDC says: ‘Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and wearer protection for the mask wearer.

‘The relationship between source control and wearer protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use,’ the agency added.

The WHO says: ‘Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives; the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.

‘If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work. Do it all!’

Hours after the PM’s address, lawyers warned July 19 may not be the end of wearing face coverings in shops if owners want them on.

Mr Mather, a consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, told MailOnline as long as a business is not being discriminatory they can enforce the rule in their stores.

He said: ‘If a shop keeper or other premises owner wanted to continue to require customers to wear masks, they would be entitled to do so provided that they did not discriminate on certain grounds set out in the Equality Act.’

He continued: ‘Ultimately, a shop is private property and so I would suggest that the owner could do what they wanted on masks.

‘A shop can refuse entry to any one on any grounds – except discrimination – and so the same would apply to a non-mask wearer – they could refuse them entry.’

He added: ‘The handing back to the public of this moral responsibility actually causes more problems than the legislation did.

‘Wear a mask or don’t wear a mask will become one’s own decision, and therefore it is difficult to see shops and public places having the same mandatory rules.

‘It would be better for shops just to say that we ”support the government guidance and recommend mask wearing in store” but then not enforce it and leave people to make their own mind up.’

Maria Chadwick, partner in the employment and discrimination department at Stephensons, said: ‘The easing of the face mask requirements, as the position is understood, will do away with any legal requirement to wear a face covering in public spaces and as such, will limit further the power of businesses and service providers to attempt to enforce it in accordance with any government issued guidance.

‘However, as the guidance will no longer be in place, it could give more scope for businesses to implement their own policies, theoretically giving them more freedom to do so on their own terms.

‘However, if their policies incorporated a blanket requirement for the wearing of face coverings on their premises with no provision for medical exemption – the same risks as are run in respect of potential discrimination claims being brought against them by way of failure to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled customers.’

Luke Gittos, a partner at Murrays Partnership, added: ‘There is no legal right to be served in a shop. These are private enterprises who can, in theory, refuse to serve whoever they choose.

‘They could, in theory, get into trouble if they refuse to serve someone because of a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act– for example, if they were not wearing a mask because of a disability.

‘But in general there is nothing illegal in a shop refusing service to someone who refuses to wear a mask. We can only hope that after the 19th of July, shop owners will appreciate that people have their own view on mask wearing which should be respected.’

Toby Young, editor of Lockdown Sceptics, pointed out it is going to be difficult for stores to force people to wear masks.

He said: ‘It’s going to be very difficult for shops to insist people wear masks. At the moment, people can simply announce that they’re mask exempt and shops aren’t legally allowed to ask for proof and if they refuse someone entry on the grounds that they’re unmasked they could be in breach of anti-discrimination law.

‘After July 19th it’s going to become even harder, because many people will simply refuse to wear masks, whether they have a disability or not.

‘And if some shops don’t insist on masks, which they won’t, any shop insisting on a mask will be at a competitive disadvantage. The easiest thing will be for all shops to drop the insistence.’

Leading retailers this morning came out and suggested they would continue to want face coverings on shoppers, but would not enforce it.

Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, told Today: ‘At the moment we actively ensure our guests are wearing masks when they’re visiting the centre, and with the changes post July 19 we will continue to encourage guests to wear masks when they’re coming into the centre.

‘We have a number of Covid secure measure that we take and again we will continue to offer these in the form of ticketless. We are very aware and very focused on the fact that guests coming to the centre want to feel safe.

‘They are our priority as are our retailers and our staff, where possible we would be encouraging the wearing of masks when people are coming into the centre.’

Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, told Today: 'I think it's safe to say we've adapted so many times over the last 18 months' (file photo)

Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, told Today: ‘I think it’s safe to say we’ve adapted so many times over the last 18 months’ (file photo)

The rules that are set to change after July 19 

Boris Johnson last night firmed up plans for unlocking England on July 19.

The PM used a press conference to confirm a bonfire of virus rules and restrictions from the so-called Freedom Day, saying individuals will again be able to judge the risks of coronavirus for themselves. However, he did not have any decisive announcements in key areas, with no date for quarantine requirements to be waived for double-jabbed Brits travelling to ‘amber list’ countries.

There was also no confirmation that self-isolation can be replaced with testing for the fully-vaccinated. And although there was a clear intention for bubble rules in schools to be axed, it is not expected to happen until September when the new term starts. 

WHAT THE PM ANNOUNCED: 

Pubs and restaurants 

Hospitality venues in England will no longer be required to collect track and trace data from July 19. Businesses won’t have to ask customers to scan a QR code using the NHS phone app on entry or to hand over their contact details, although they will have the option of continuing to do so if they wish. Mandatory table service rules will also be scrapped, meaning drinkers will be able to order at the bar again in pubs.

Masks 

Wearing masks will become voluntary everywhere apart from hospitals and other health facilities from July 19 in England. Public transport passengers, shoppers and those visiting pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres will no longer be required by law to cover up. However, people may still be encouraged to wear masks in some enclosed places where they come into close contact with each other, for example on London Tube trains. 

Work from home 

The official guidance telling people to ‘work from home if you can’ will be scrapped on July 19 in England. But it will be left up to employers and their staff to decide whether they have to go back to their desks. Ministers will not launch a campaign encouraging staff back to the office and are resigned to there not being a mass return to workplaces this summer.

AND WHAT THE PM DIDN’T ANNOUNCE

Holidays 

Ministers have been working on a system to open up holiday destinations for double-jabbed Britons. People who have had both vaccine doses could no longer have to quarantine for ten days after visiting amber list countries, such as Spain, France and Greece. However, there is not set to be any definitive news on the rules tonight and Government sources have cautioned the July 19 date is ‘ambitious’.

TEST AND TRACE

Pressure has been growing for people who have received both coronavirus vaccine doses to be spared isolating at home for ten days if they have come into contact with someone who tested positive. 

They could be offered lateral flow tests to do themselves at home instead. However, ministers have not come to a conclusion on whether to go ahead, and it is understood a new system is very unlikely to be in place for July 19.

SCHOOLS

The bubbles system that has seen whole classes or year groups sent home if just one pupil tests positive for coronavirus will be scrapped in England. Ministers are planning to announce a new way of handling outbreaks. 

Instead of sending children home en masse, those who have come into contact with a positive case are likely to be given daily tests. Few expect the arrangements to start until the new school year in September, although Sajid Javid sparked confusion by telling MPs tonight that it could happen on July 19.

She added: ‘Each of the retailers may implement their own policies, and that’s something we’re working on with them, but it’s something that we’ll be waiting for feedback from them on.’

Customers will no longer need to wear masks in Sainsbury’s stores from July 19, the supermarket’s chief executive suggested today.

Simon Roberts said he would consult with staff on their views but said the decision to wear one would be down to individual choice. He said: ‘We’re all absorbing the latest news last night and thinking through our response.

‘There are two very distinct points of view. One is customers and colleagues who can’t wait for the restrictions to lift and not to have to wear a mask for example, and others who are keen to continue to do that.

‘I think in the end it will come down to the choices that individual customers and colleagues want to make. It is going to be driven by customer and by colleague choice.’

He added: ‘We’re clearly going to follow the Government advice, we’ll continue to listen to our customers and colleagues and we’ll respect and support the individual choices the customers and colleagues want to make.’

However Prof Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said ‘there’s no reason’ why businesses should not be able to refuse to serve customers without face masks after July 19.

He told Times Radio: ‘There’s no reason why businesses which have made their own assessments cannot say actually ”If you come in here we still want you to wear a mask”.

‘They can’t mandate it, but neither are businesses mandated to have to serve you, so if you run a nail bar and you want the clients to wear a face mask, you simply say ”You have to wear a face mask if you want to get your nails done”.

‘That’s a good example of some direct, personal, face-to-face contact for a good 40 minutes where you don’t want your staff breathing in what Joe Public is breathing on to you.

‘There’s no reason why many businesses can’t actually just say ”Hang on a minute, in this setting we want you to wear a face mask”. I don’t see why public transport companies couldn’t make the same assessment.’

Mr Wagner, the human rights lawyer from Doughty Street Chambers, has been publishing guidance on the practical effects of regulations during the pandemic.

He suggested businesses are likely to retain mask mandates and social distancing measures in the workplace indefinitely.

He told MailOnline bosses have a legal duty to protect the health of their staff and the burden of safety has grown amid Covid.

Mr Wagner pointed out businesses could insist staff wear masks after July 19 for fear of a worker taking them to tribunal if an outbreak leads to serious illness or death.

He said: ‘Absolutely firms will want to keep some kind of social distancing in place, whether the virus is surging or not and regardless of whether or not there are government coronavirus regulations after July 19.

‘I suspect that many businesses will be consulting legal advice on insisting that staff continue to wear masks and keep their distance in the office.

‘They will be looking at the health and safety executives and they will also be following the government guidance which comes out on keeping the workplace Covid-secure.

‘Businesses will probably be risk-averse, because no one will want to be the first to tell its staff that they don’t have to cover their faces or keep to social distancing restrictions. And why should they?

‘Covid is extremely disruptive and we’re about to enter a period where there are fewer restrictions, meaning the virus is going to surge.

‘Yes people are vaccinated against Covid, and yes the link between infection and hospitalisation let alone death appears to have been broken by the roll-out.

‘But we’re wading into uncertain waters here and firms will be wanting to play their cards safe. And if you look at where easing has taken place, so far it’s been mostly indoor venues – like cinemas, theatres, pubs and so on.

‘We’re experimenting with mass outdoor gatherings, and we don’t really know the real-world consequences of thousands of people all mingling together.’

Meanwhile popular airlines including British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet are planning to keep the measure in place.

Ryanair and easyJet were among those that confirmed fliers will still be required to wear face coverings beyond July 19.

Meanwhile popular airlines including British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet are planning to keep the measure in place (file (photo)

Meanwhile popular airlines including British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet are planning to keep the measure in place (file (photo)

The Brexit mask divide: Leave voters are more likely to ditch face coverings

Britain has a new Brexit divide with Leave voters more willing than Remainers to ditch their masks when the laws demanding their use are scrapped.

More Brexiteers said they planned to stop wearing a face covering after July 19 than said they would continue to voluntarily cover up, by 46 to 41 per cent, YouGov found.

By contrast, some 59 per cent of Remainers said they planned to continue to wear masks to lower the risk that they would spread disease to others. 

However, the pollsters also found that there was a significant majority among both Leave and Remain voters for keeping rules demanding masks be worn on public transport.

BA is expected to join them, with a spokesman saying: ‘We keep our policies under constant review.’ Tui and Virgin Atlantic also hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.

Ryanair said: ‘In order to protect the health of our customers and crew, the use of face masks will still be mandatory across all Ryanair flights.’

An easyJet spokesman said: ‘At present there are no changes to easyJet’s on-board mask policy.

‘We continue to be guided by our in-house medical adviser and a number of key industry governing bodies… and at present their guidance around the wearing of masks on board remains unchanged.’

Tui said it would be following advice from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, which continues to advise for masks be worn.

Virgin Atlantic said it was ‘reviewing’ its policy, adding: ‘Currently all customers and our crew are required to wear their masks for the duration of the flight.’

Jet2 said it would continue to make masks compulsory if the Civil Aviation Authority’s advice to do so does not change.

Mr Mather from Nexa Law said: ‘If an airline says everyone still has to wear masks on board then, except if you’re exempt or have a disability, they could enforce that rule because its their planes and a private contract between the airline and customer.’

Meanwhile on the trains bosses have suggested they will keep measures after July 19 as they slammed the government’s ‘on the hoof’ Covid policy.

General secretary of the RMT union Mick Lynch said: ‘Yet again there’s a real danger of the government making up policy on the hoof on critical issues and that is reflected in the comments of the minister this morning.

‘Back in the real world discussions are ongoing at industry-wide level but all parties are having to second-guess what the government will say later today and that is not good enough.

‘All the indications are that the government are going for a free-for-all, whereas common sense and medical advice seems to indicate that some level of control should remain in place in the public realm.

‘RMT’s priority will be the safety of our members and the travelling public.’

A Southeastern Railway spokesman said: ‘We’ve yet to receive full guidance for the easing of restrictions after 19 July, but in the meantime we’d remind our passengers that it remains a legal requirement to wear a face covering when travelling on our trains.’

And a spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group added: ‘As in society generally, the chance of catching coronavirus on a train is low, especially as train operators are helping people travel with confidence by continuing extra cleaning and ensuring the air in carriages is refreshed at least every 10 minutes.’

 

‘It’s Freedom Day, NOT free-for-all day’: Pub chain boss says he doesn’t want a ‘scrum at the bar’ and will urge punters to continue ordering from tables, encourage social-distancing and wear masks after July 19 changes come into force

A major UK pub chain will still encourage masks, social distancing and table service to ‘avoid a scrum at the bar’ with its boss declaring today: ‘July 19 has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ but it really shouldn’t be free for all day’.

Boris Johnson announced yesterday that it will no longer be a legal requirement for pubs to require customers to order drinks at their tables 

But several pub businesses will continue this – meaning people will still not be able to go to the bar if an individual pub bans it – and keep many of the rules imposed since the pandemic began in March 2020 to protect staff and customers from Covid-19.

Clive Watson, chief executive of the City Pub Group, who run 45 pubs across England and Wales, said: ‘July 19 has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ but it really shouldn’t be free for all day’.

He says staff will be asked to wear masks with customers encouraged to do the same, and if they approach the bar to order they will be initially urged to do it at the table.

While the boss of Punch Taverns, Clive Chesser, is demanding the Government scrap its current blanket self-isolation policy for a more ‘pragmatic’ test and release system to stop the crippling staff problems the NHS app is causing at his 1,300 pubs.  

Clive Watson, chief executive of the City Pub Group, who run 45 pubs across England and Wales, said: 'July 19 has been dubbed 'Freedom Day' but it really shouldn't be free for all day'.

While the boss of Punch Taverns, Clive Chesser, is demanding the Government scrap its current blanket self-isolation policy for a more 'pragmatic' test and release system

Clive Watson, chief executive of the City Pub Group, who run 45 pubs across England and Wales, said: ‘July 19 has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ but it really shouldn’t be free for all day’. While the boss of Punch Taverns, Clive Chesser, is demanding the Government scrap its current blanket self-isolation policy for a more ‘pragmatic’ test and release system

Pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at the bar - but some chains plan to keep some of the rules such as wearing masks

Pubs and other venues will not have to collect customer details and will again be able to serve drinks at the bar – but some chains plan to keep some of the rules such as wearing masks

At a Downing Street press conference, a bullish Mr Johnson also confirmed that nightclubs will be allowed to reopen for the first time since the first shutdown was imposed in March last year as he urged the public to use common sense and gauge risk for themselves. 

But Mr Watson from City Pub Group has said his businesses will keep many of the rules that remain in place now.

He told the BBC’s Today programme: ‘I think that staff should be encouraged or instructed to wear masks, I think that’s very important, and I also think from a customer’s point of view we will still try to offer as much service as possible at the table.

‘What we don’t want is a free for all scrum at the bar, with lots of people queuing up. Nearly 50% of our customers order their food and drink via the app, we want to continue that, with the rest ordering at table. We want to continue that as well.

‘It’s not like flicking a switch back to February 2020. We’re not going to say you cannot order at the bar – but we’re going to make it as easy as possible to order from the table. We’re not going to militant about it – but we’re not going to encourage people to order at the bar. 

‘Staff will be encouraged to tell people: ‘No order at the table, that way you’ll get quicker service, easier service and safer service’.

‘And I think a lot of customers and staff will welcome that. It might not work for all. It’s about making customers and staff safe.

‘It’s easier to tell staff that it is best practice to wear masks. Customers will be more difficult but then they should be encouraged to wear masks and we will also have masks behind the bar.

‘Again we won’t be militant about but I think a lot of staff and customers will welcome people continuing with those safe practices that we’ve had over the past 18 months’.

Hospitality chiefs who have warned of the devastation wreaked to their industry by successive lockdowns during the pandemic are praising the end of compulsory mask wearing and table service in two weeks as declared by the Prime Minister. 

Clive Chesser, Punch Pubs & Co CEO, said: ‘We very much welcome the move towards self-responsibility when going about our everyday lives, and we will of course continue to keep our teams and guests safe within our businesses.

‘At the same time, we are concerned by the lack of clarity on how the Test and Trace system will be adapted to provide a more pragmatic and risk-based system, moving to a ‘test to remain’ framework to reduce disproportionate interruptions to people’s working lives and to support business continuity. This is an urgent requirement, given the current level of disruption, and we remain keen to work with the Government on helping to find a more practical solution.’

UKHospitality said the announcement ‘marks a major milestone in how England will come to live with Covid and will be celebrated by hospitality business owners’ – but warned ‘it will still be a long road back for businesses that have been forced to take on debt just to survive’.

Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘The Prime Minister’s announcement marks a major milestone in how England will come to live with Covid and will be celebrated by hospitality business owners and their staff across the country. 

‘For the vast majority of hospitality businesses, 19th July – if confirmed next week – will be the first time in 16 months that they have been able to realistically look to break even and move towards profitability.   

‘It will still be a long road back for businesses that have been forced to take on debt just to survive, especially with the reintroduction of business rates payments. Nevertheless, this is a critical move that will unleash a sector that is eager to play its part in the wider national recovery, to repay the support afforded it by the Government.’

Boris Johnson pushed the button on a 'big bang' Freedom Day unlocking with social distancing rules, mask laws and the work from home order set to go

Boris Johnson pushed the button on a ‘big bang’ Freedom Day unlocking with social distancing rules, mask laws and the work from home order set to go

Track and trace QR codes are displayed outside a pub, in Manchester, north west England. These will also go - but the PM is being urged to get rid of the current self-isolation rules

Track and trace QR codes are displayed outside a pub, in Manchester, north west England. These will also go – but the PM is being urged to get rid of the current self-isolation rules

The new normal! Face masks, distancing, socialising and isolation… everything you need to know about our post-lockdown rules as we begin to emerge from Covid pandemic

What’s being axed?

RULE OF SIX

There will be no legal limits on social contact, meaning groups will not have to limit themselves to six people or two households if they are mixing indoors. 

Groups outdoors can be as large as people want them to be.

WEDDING AND FUNERAL CAP

The limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and other major life events are being scrapped.

Limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and other major life events will be scrapped under the new plans. (Stock image)

Limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and other major life events will be scrapped under the new plans. (Stock image)

ART AND SPORT VENUE LIMITS

There will be no more restrictions on the size of an audience at a concert or a show, or a crowd at a sports fixture, which means theatres and stadiums can run at full capacity.

NIGHTCLUBS

All other legal requirements for venues to close will be lifted, allowing night-time industries – including nightclubs – to reopen for the first time since the pandemic began.

SINGING CURBS

No restrictions on singing, or even guidance to restrict it. It means singing by church choirs can continue – as can karaoke nights.

What’s guidance not law?

FACE MASKS

Legal rules mandating the wearing of face masks will be axed.

However, guidance will state that people should wear them in hospitals and care homes as well as in ‘crowded public spaces’.

It will also suggest that people should wear masks in places where cases are rising.

Transport services such as the London Underground may decide to make wearing masks a condition of travel.

Private companies will be allowed to make them a requirement for entry, as Ryanair has already announced on its flights.

Legal rules mandating the wearing of face masks will be axed but guidance will state that people should wear them in hospitals and care homes as well as in 'crowded public spaces'. (Stock image)

Legal rules mandating the wearing of face masks will be axed but guidance will state that people should wear them in hospitals and care homes as well as in ‘crowded public spaces’. (Stock image)

GOING TO PUBS

It will no longer be a legal requirement to scan a QR code on entry to a venue as part of the test and trace system.

However, venues will be allowed to make use of the codes a requirement for entry if they choose.

It will also no longer be a legal requirement for pubs to require customers to order drinks at their tables. However, some pub chains may continue this – meaning that people will still not be able to go to the bar if an individual pub bans it.

ONE-METRE RULE

The one-metre rule will be scrapped in law – meaning fewer Perspex screens in offices.

It also means hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants won’t have to limit customers to ensure they are spaced apart.

However, the one-metre rule will continue to be enforced at borders, such as in airports, amid concern over people coming into the country with variants.

WORKING FROM HOME

The Government’s ‘work from home’ message will end and employers will be able to start to plan a return to the workplace.

But it will still be up to individual employers. Some may decide to continue with working from home for the foreseeable future.

And although guidance to employers will be slimmed down, it will still encourage them to ensure rooms are properly ventilated to minimise risk.

The Government's 'work from home' message will end and employers will be able to start to plan a return to the workplace. (Stock image)

The Government’s ‘work from home’ message will end and employers will be able to start to plan a return to the workplace. (Stock image)

CAP ON CARE HOME VISITS

The current restriction that people can only be seen by five named visitors will be scrapped.

But strict infection-control measures – such as the wearing of PPE and regular cleaning – will continue, with more detail to be announced later.

JAB PASSPORTS

Covid status certification – so-called vaccine passports – will not be legally required in domestic settings.

It is being left up to individual venues to decide themselves whether to demand Covid status certification through the NHS App as a condition of entry.

Still waiting for details?

FOREIGN TRAVEL

A new system to allow double-jabbed people to avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries does not yet have a start date.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is working with the travel industry to introduce the scheme, with more details due later this week.

It could begin on July 19 – but possibly not until August 2.

A new system to allow double-jabbed people to avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries does not yet have a start date. Pictured: Passengers arrive to Heathrow Airport

A new system to allow double-jabbed people to avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries does not yet have a start date. Pictured: Passengers arrive to Heathrow Airport 

SELF-ISOLATION

Ministers want to scrap the need for double-jabbed people to self-isolate if they are contacted by test and trace, or ‘pinged’ by the NHS app.

A decision will be announced later this week, although it is not clear when such a system might come into effect. The rules could also be changed for children.

CLASS BUBBLES

The Government wants to scrap the requirement to send a whole class home if one pupil tests positive – and to replace the ‘bubbles’ system with testing.

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, will announce details today.

Schools are not expected to be asked to bring in a new system until next term.

The Government wants to scrap the requirement to send a whole class home if one pupil tests positive. (Stock image)

The Government wants to scrap the requirement to send a whole class home if one pupil tests positive. (Stock image)

HOWEVER…

A final decision on whether all the above changes will be implemented is not expected to be announced until next Monday, July 12.

They will only go ahead if the Government deems the country has met its ‘four tests’.

Boris Johnson said yesterday he would do ‘everything possible’ to stop restrictions being re-imposed in the future.

ALSO: ROLLOUT OF VACCINES

The gap between first and second vaccines for the under-40s will be shortened from 12 weeks to eight to help ensure that everyone can be doubled jabbed by September.

What’s staying? 

CONTACT TRACING

Contact tracing will not be stood down because the Prime Minister believes it will be essential to help manage future Covid outbreaks. (Stock image)

Contact tracing will not be stood down because the Prime Minister believes it will be essential to help manage future Covid outbreaks. (Stock image)

The system will not be stood down because the Prime Minister believes it will be essential to help manage Covid outbreaks in future.

Keeping the system means people can still be contacted if they have been in proximity to a Covid sufferer.

Guidance will back venues scanning customers in to help support contact tracing.

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Real Estate

UK property prices are 30% higher than they were in 2007, Zoopla says

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Average property prices across Britain are now 30 per cent higher than they were at the peak of the market in 2007, before the global financial crash.

Buyers are paying an average of £230,700 for a home, which is the highest on record, according to property portal Zoopla’s latest house price index.

House prices grew by 5.4 per cent in the year to June, but experts at Zoopla said they could start falling as the year draws to an end and the stamp duty holiday and furlough scheme are scrapped.

Price shifts: Average property prices across Britain are now 30% higher than they were at the peak of the market in 2007, according to data from Zoopla

Price shifts: Average property prices across Britain are now 30% higher than they were at the peak of the market in 2007, according to data from Zoopla

While the stamp duty holiday and cheap mortgage deals have given the property market a boost, a severe shortage in stock has also been pushing up prices. 

The number of properties up for sale was around a quarter lower in the first six months of this year than it was at the same point a year ago, Zoopla said.

The stock shortage problem has been exacerbated by a rise in the number of first-time buyers coming to the market, who, of course, have no property to sell.  

Getting more space remains a big draw for many prospective buyers, with demand for houses twice as high as the 2017-19 average, while the popularity of flats has waned. 

Northern Ireland and Wales saw the biggest spike in property prices in the past year, with rises of 8.6 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively. 

For Wales, this represents the highest rate of annual growth for 16 years, with many areas becoming increasingly popular with relocators and second home owners.

Demand for houses has pushed their price tags up, especially in Wales which proved popular with relocators and second home owners

Demand for houses has pushed their price tags up, especially in Wales which proved popular with relocators and second home owners 

Stock matters: The number of homes being put up for sale has failed to keep up with demand

Stock matters: The number of homes being put up for sale has failed to keep up with demand

This was despite the fact that the Welsh land transaction tax holiday, its equivalent of the stamp duty break, did not apply to second home or buy-to-let purchases.

In Wales and England, buyers could save up to £15,000 in tax on house purchases until 30 June. In England, they can still save up to £2,500 until 30 September. 

At a regional level, house price growth was at its highest in the North West (+7.3 per cent) and Yorkshire & the Humber (+6.8 per cent), while London trailed behind with annual house price growth of +2.3 per cent.  

Demand in London is polarised between inner and outer, with demand in outer London running 86 per cent ahead of the 2017-19 average. 

‘This is explained in part by the available housing stock – with larger volumes of houses and properties with outside space’, Zoopla said.

In contrast, demand in inner London is running just 2 per cent above the ‘normal’ market average. 

This is also reflected in the pricing of properties, with London flats, predominantly clustered towards the centre, dipping by 0.5 per cent in the year to June. In contrast, houses have registered growth of 5.6 per cent in the past year. 

Looking at other major cities, Liverpool has performed well as house prices grew by 8.9 per cent in the past year. 

Rochdale, Bolton and Hastings all saw property prices increase over 9 per cent during the period, while Belfast, Manchester and Sheffield saw prices rise more than 7 per cent. 

Sales levels up and down the country are running about 22 per cent higher than they were last year, but buyer demand slipped 9 per cent in the first half of July after the initial phase of the stamp duty holiday ended. 

However, transaction volumes are still around 80 per cent higher than they would normally be at this time of year. 

Your area: A map showing how house prices have been changing up and down Britain

Your area: A map showing how house prices have been changing up and down Britain

Grainne Gilmore, head of research at Zoopla, said: ‘Demand is moderating from record high levels earlier this year, but remains significantly up from typical levels, signalling that above average activity levels will continue in the coming months.

‘Demand for houses is still outstripping demand for flats. To a certain extent this trend will have been augmented by the stamp duty holiday, with bigger savings on offer for larger properties – typically houses. 

‘But underneath this, there is a continued drumbeat of demand for more space among buyers, both inside and outside, funnelling demand towards houses, resulting in stronger price growth for these properties.’

She added: ‘Overall buyer demand coupled with constrained supply signal that price growth will continue to rise in the coming months, peaking at around 6 per cent, before falling back to between 4 per cent to 5 per cent by the end of 2021.’ 

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EU pauses legal action against UK over Northern Ireland protocol

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The European Commission has paused legal proceedings against the United Kingdom over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the hope that solutions can be found.

It comes after the UK government called for a “standstill period” in which the EU would not further legal action and the UK would also refrain from unilateral moves.

A European Commission spokesman said in a statement that “in order to provide the necessary space to reflect on these issues and find durable solutions to the implementation of the protocol, we have decided, at this stage, not to move to the next stage of the infringement procedure, started in March”.

Last week the UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, told the House of Commons there should be a “significant change” in the protocol and that “we cannot go on as we are”.

The commission said the pause in the legal action would be used to consider the UK’s proposals.

“We confirm our readiness to continue to engage with the United Kingdom, also on the suggestions made in the Command Paper, and to consider any proposals that respect the principles of the protocol,” the statement from the commission added.

The Irish Government has also said it will carefully consider the British proposals, which include suggestions that were raised and discussed during the negotiation process.

“We have received a constructive reply from the Commission in response to our request for a standstill on existing arrangements,” a British government spokeswoman said. “We look forward to engaging in talks with the EU in the weeks ahead to progress the proposals in our command paper.

“As we set out in the Command Paper last week, significant changes are needed to ensure the Pprotocol is sustainable for future”

Last week, Mr Frost suggested a tiered system in which goods produced for consumption in Northern Ireland only would not need to be inspected at Irish Sea crossing points, and that goods that were made to standards that equalled those of the EU should be able to circulate freely.

‘Impossible’ steps

Other proposals included abolishing export certification, state aid rules and the oversight of the European Court of Justice, encompassing several steps that are seen as impossible for EU capitals to agree to.

Both Brussels and Dublin are seen to be keen to cool the heat on the issue of Northern Ireland and encourage negotiations to find solutions for any problems through the pathways laid out by the withdrawal agreement and trade deal wherever possible.

The commission warned that it would not renegotiate the protocol, which was negotiated and agreed by both sides as a way to allow Britain to leave the single market and customs union while avoiding the need for checks across the island of Ireland.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson originally praised the deal as a “reasonable, fair outcome” and a “very good deal” for both sides, but his government has since said it has been implemented in a stricter manner than foreseen.

“The EU has sought flexible, practical solutions to overcome the difficulties citizens in Northern Ireland are experiencing regarding the implementation of the protocol – as demonstrated in the package of measures announced by the commission on June 30th,” a commission spokeswoman said.

“While the EU will not renegotiate the protocol, we stand ready to address all the issues arising in the practical implementation of the protocol in a spirit of good faith and co-operation.”

It added that if was essential that “constructive discussions” continue in the coming weeks.

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Cladding repair bill is same as £230k price of this Hertfordshire flat

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When homeowner Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 2017 for £230,000, she had no idea about the potentially crippling costs that lay ahead.

She moved into the flat just before the fire at Grenfell Tower, in West London, which caused 72 deaths.

Like so many other purchasers, Sophie bought moved into her flat believing that it was safe because it complied with building regulations. 

However, her flat has since deemed to be unsafe in the wake of the Grenfell fire.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Like so many other flat owners affected by fire safety issues, she has been left unable to sell her property, as mortgage lenders will no longer offer loans without fresh proof of safety. 

Her block of flats has been deemed unsafe and fire safety repairs need to be carried out. 

But the bill for the repairs are eye-watering, almost matching what she originally paid for the flat. 

This summer she was quoted £202,077 to fix just her flat, which is not far from the £230,000 that she originally paid for her home.

She understands that some of the £14million-plus costs to fix her block will be met from the Building Safety Fund, but it is not yet known how much financial assistance – if any – she will get.

This leaves her facing the unknown, a situation many flat owners find themselves in through no fault of their own.  

She says it is likely that she will have to relocate during the works for at least a month.

Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe

Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe

Her block is home to 73 flats spread across 14 storeys. It is above 18 metres and had problems with combustible cladding and missing fire breaks.

It is unknown when the fire safety work is expected to begin as the Government has yet to confirm whether it will provide funding for her block.

But once the work does start, it is suggested that it could take 52 weeks, meaning Sophie would be effectively living on what would look like a building site for a year.

The block has already paid for six months of a waking watch at a cost of £600 a month per flat. Those payments stopped following the installation of new fire alarms.

Sophie told MailOnline Property: ‘We have a supportive network of leaseholders and so you can take time out from dealing with it. However, being in lockdown and in the flat twenty-four seven means I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this out.

‘Knowing that when you go to work that money has already been spent has been disheartening.

‘We just have to do what we can. It is easier for me to talk about it now, but there are people I know who are suicidal. While the Government is playing ‘who is to pay’, leaseholders are struggling to survive.’

‘We have had to put our life on hold. I can’t spend any money as I know I shall have a bill at the end of all of this, although I don’t know how much that will be.

‘I’d like to get married and have children, but simply cannot afford to contemplate that at the moment.’

Campaigners have called ministers of ignoring cladding victims’ screams for help.

Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, said: ‘Ministers have betrayed leaseholders like Sophie. Ignoring their screams for help, dismissing their dreams and refusing to listen.

‘Leaseholders need practical support, not more weasel words and I will continue to fight for people like Sophie.

‘Leaseholders are not to blame, but they are facing devastating mental health and financial costs as they are left to pay more in remediating their flats, than they are now worth. It is a tragic market failure and we must step in as a government to support them.’

It follows an announcement by Robert Jenrick that neither leaseholders nor taxpayers should pay for dangerous cladding to be removed. 

He said that the law will be changed retrospectively to give homeowners 15 years to take action against their developers for shoddy workmanship.  

A MHCLG spokesman responded, saying: “Building owners should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will introduce a new legal requirement for owners of high-rise buildings to prove they have tried all routes to cover the cost of fixing their buildings.

“We are processing applications to the Building Safety Fund as quickly as possible – and we have been clear that we will fund the removal of dangerous cladding from high rise building where remediation is necessary.

“Our approach strikes the right balance in our continuing commitment to protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers – while reassuring lenders that where cladding remediation is needed, costs will not be a barrier or mean that mortgage payments become unmanageable.”

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