Boris Johnson tonight plunged the country into a third national lockdown ordering everyone to work from home if they can.
However, the criteria on who can stay out of the office has caused some confusion with the exception applying only to people who ‘absolutely cannot work from home’.
The Government’s official website states this category includes – but is not limited to – ‘people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance’.
Roles such as these – which include water service and telecoms workers – are ‘essential to keeping the country operating and supporting sectors and employers’, guidance states.
Those working in childcare or education are deemed to be providing an essential service, meaning they should continue to go into work.
People who need to work in others’ homes – such as nannies, cleaners or tradespeople – are also able to do so.
Boris Johnson tonight announced a new coronavirus lockdown for England, with all workers told to work from home wherever possible
To facilitate working from him, employees are encouraged to provide both IT equipment and the services to enable remote working.
Those who are out of the house without a ‘reasonable excuse’ – including those who are working outside when it is not essential – can be slapped with a £200 fine.
This figure can increase to up to £6,400 for repeat offenders.
Mr Johnson is urging the nation to stick to the new rules from this evening but business chiefs reacted with anger due to the short notice and because the PM failed to announce any new financial support for firms.
Industry bosses said the latest restrictions represented another ‘body blow’ to struggling businesses.
Speaking in Number 10, Mr Johnson said tough new coronavirus curbs are necessary in order to crackdown on a new, more infectious strain of the disease which is spreading across the UK.
He said: ‘With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out.
‘In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.
‘That means the Government is once again instructing you to stay at home.
‘You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance such as getting a Covid test, or to escape domestic abuse.’
The Government has already announced that its furlough wage support scheme is being extended to the end of April.
But business leaders immediately said the new lockdown will require more support if firms are to stay afloat.
Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ‘Businesses will understand why the Prime Minister has felt compelled to act on the spiralling threat to public health, but they will be baffled and disappointed by the fact that he did not announce additional support for affected businesses alongside these new restrictions.
‘The lockdowns announced in England and Scotland today are a body blow to our business communities, hard on the heels of lost trade during the festive season and uncertainty linked to the end of the Brexit transition period.
‘Tens of thousands of firms are already in a precarious position, and now face a period of further hardship and difficulty.
‘Billions have already been spent helping good firms to survive this unprecedented crisis and to save jobs.
‘These businesses must not be allowed to fail now, when the vaccine rollout provides light at the end of this long tunnel.’
The announcement of a new England-wide lockdown immediately prompted calls from business leaders for Rishi Sunak to bring forward a new package of financial support
Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, echoed a similar sentiment.
‘The extension of the furlough scheme to the Spring was welcome, but it will remain a cliff edge as we get nearer, as are the end of the VAT and business rate relief periods,’ he said.
‘These must be extended. We also need to see an expansion of the grants programme delivered via councils, based on the number of businesses within a borough, rather than the number of residents.
‘Government needs to understand that this is a London Marathon. You plan for the long-haul, you have feeding and water stations all along the way, and support after the finish line. The Treasury needs to produce their plan for this marathon. At the moment, they are absent on duty and London may fall as a consequence.’