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Prime Minister Boris Johnson relaxed work-from-home guidance, putting him at odds with his top scientific adviser as he seeks to pump life into the U.K.’s coronavirus-battered economy.
Anyone will now be able to use public transport, Johnson said in a televised press conference on Friday, marking a change from guidance to avoid it where possible. And from August 1, he said employers will have “more discretion” on bringing staff working from home back into offices.
With the economy shrinking a fifth in the three months through April, Johnsonand Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak are trying to revive economic activity and stave off an expected wave of job cuts as the government tapers support for businesses and continues to ease a lockdown that began on March 23.
But the prime minister’s advice on Friday puts him at odds with Patrick Vallance, his chief scientific adviser, who told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee on Thursday that he could see “absolutely no reason” to change guidance for people to work from home if they can.
“We’re still at a time when distancing measures are important, and of the various distancing measures, working from home, for many companies, remains a perfectly good option because it’s easy to do,” said Vallance, who heads up the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. “A number of companies think actually it’s not detrimental to productivity.”
Ministers are responding to concerns that shops and restaurants in city centers will struggle to survive if people who work in the offices around them continue to work from home. Vallance himself acknowledged that the government also has economic considerations to bear in mind as he sought to distance himself and his committee from policy decisions.
“What we’re doing is laying out scientific reasons behind options from which people can choose,” Vallance said. “Overlaying that with economic and other considerations is the job of government.”
In This Story: Lockdown
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In This Story: Patrick Vallance
Sir Patrick John Thompson Vallance FRS FMedSci FRCP is a British physician, scientist, and clinical pharmacologist who has worked in both academia and industry and, since March 2018, has been the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of the United Kingdom.