Parts of Britain showed signs that they were getting back to work today despite the ongoing coronavirus lockdown – with builders returning to construction sites and roads visibly busier than a week ago.
Road traffic has increased to the highest levels since the lockdown was introduced, with traffic on Sunday seeing the most drivers back on the roads for the last day of the school Easter holidays.
Meanwhile huge queues have been forming outside B&Q stores and Five Guys burger restaurants after the two companies were among those reopening in the last few days.
It comes as the Government is said to be considering staggering workers’ start times to avoid the rush-hour bottlenecks when the majority of Britons head back to the office.
The possible strategy on getting London back on the move comes after Mayor Sadiq Khan warned Transport for London has about a week’s worth of cash to keep itself running, and militant RMT union chiefs say there is ‘zero chance’ of their members getting back on the buses and trains without personal protective equipment (PPE).
Meanwhile homebuilder Taylor Wimpey said construction will resume on May 4, rival Vistry Group said it will re-start next week and luxury car-maker Aston Martin Lagonda is set to reopen its South Wales factory on May 5.
Builders failed to properly socially distance at one site in London today, where about 50 had temperature checks before being allowed into No. 1 Palace Street where 72 luxury flats are being built near Buckingham Palace.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the unprecedented lockdown on March 23 to deal with the pandemic as people were ordered to ‘stay at home’. On April 16 this was extended for at least another three weeks until May 7.
It comes as reports emerged Britons will be told to stagger their jobs around the clock to get some of the country back to work, with one option is to split the busy morning commute into three separate periods.
This would see workers arrive to begin work in hour long slots from 7am, 10am and 1pm, while companies may also be told to split up staff working in offices or factories to come in either on alternate days or over weekends.
In other developments today:
- A GP leader said wearing face masks or face coverings in public is ‘perfectly reasonable’, as England’s deputy chief medical officer admitted it was a ‘difficult issue’;
- Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis was grilled by TV presenter Piers Morgan on the issue of Covid-19 testing and why health and care workers are not getting tests;
- The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the UK should prepare to endure some sort of restrictive measures for at least the rest of the year;
- The Scottish Government is due to publish a paper on how Covid-19 restrictions may be eased;
- Dr Medhat Atalla, a consultant geriatrician at Doncaster Royal Infirmary in South Yorkshire, became the latest medic to die after contracting Covid-19;
- Professor John Newton said the Government is confident that only ‘if there are enough people who need testing’ would it hit its 100,000-a-day target, set for next week;
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has thrown her support behind the World Health Organisation after US President Donald Trump stopped its funding;
- UKHospitality warned that an extended period of social distancing measures could cost a million jobs in the sector; and
- Backbench Tories have increased the pressure on the Government to scale back the lockdown over fears that prolonged restrictions could sink the economy.
Construction employees are pictured working on a building site this morning in Lewisham, South East London
Drivers are seen on the M3 in Hampshire this morning during the normal rush hour (left), compared to on Good Friday (right)
Crowds of commuters board a Jubilee line train at Canning Town station on the London Underground this morning
Customers wait outside a B&Q store at Sutton In Ashfield in Nottinghamshire which has opened its doors this morning
Traffic queues along the Victoria Embankment in Central London this morning as the UK continues to be in lockdown
Builders gather on a construction site at No. 1 Palace Street this morning near Buckingham Palace in London
Motorists driving lorries and cars on the M23 motorway which runs through Surrey and Sussex are pictured this morning
A motorist drives through the Cotswolds beauty spot of Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire this morning
Speaking about a possible staggered start to working hours, a Cabinet source told the Sun: ‘We have to get the wheels of the economy turning again soon or there won’t be much left of it. But life and work is going to look very different when it happens, whether it’s staggered rush hours or going in every other day.’
Photographs of builders arriving for work at the site at No. 1 Palace Street come after the Unite union warned that construction workers’ health is being threatened by watered down advice on social distancing on building sites.
A witness told MailOnline: ‘There’s a really big block being built and they’re doing temperature checks on people before they enter the building site. You can see they are clearly not social distancing.
‘It’s almost like people have gone ‘oh look, we’re back to work, the disease has disappeared”. I can only guess some of them have got on the Tube to get there which isn’t ideal. There were a few coffee shops open nearby.’
The site at No. 1 Palace Street which covers 271,051 square feet of space is operated by London-based infrastructure company Balfour Beatty, which has been contacted for comment by MailOnline today.
It comes as Taylor Wimpey said it plans to resume work on its construction sites from May 4. The housebuilder had ordered its sites, show homes and sales centres to be closed in March, as the coronavirus crisis gathered pace.
Builder move a panel while they get back to work on the site in Central London this morning
Builders arrive for work at the No. 1 Palace Street site today which will feature 72 luxury flats
Construction workers are given tempeature checks as they arrive for work in London today
A construction worker holds a ‘stop’ sign at the building site in Central London this morning
The company said it will re-start activity on most sites in England and Wales using ‘detailed new site operating protocols’ which comply with social distancing rules.
Social distancing will not end until after Christmas
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty arrives at Downing Street in London this morning
Disruptive ‘social distancing’ measures will have to remain in place for the rest of this year, the Chief Medical Officer warned yesterday.
Professor Chris Whitty said they cannot be lifted until either a vaccine for Covid-19 or ‘highly effective’ drugs to treat the virus become available.
He told the daily Downing Street press conference that it was ‘wholly unrealistic’ to expect lockdown measures to be lifted soon.
Professor Whitty did not specify whether the strict ‘stay at home’ policy would have to be in place until Christmas and beyond.
Other experts have suggested that some of the strictest measures, including school closures, could be eased so long as there is not a spike in coronavirus cases.
But Professor Whitty made it clear that a full return to normal life needs a medical breakthrough.
‘This disease is not going to be eradicated. It is not going to disappear,’ he said. ‘So we have to accept we are working with a disease that is going to be with us globally – this is a global problem – for the foreseeable future.
‘We have to be very realistic that if people are hoping it’s suddenly going to move from lockdown to suddenly everything’s gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation. In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally.
‘A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed… or, and/or, highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.
‘The probability of having those any time in the next calendar year is incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that.
‘We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive.
‘But until that point, that is what we will have to do. It’s going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that.’
Senior Government sources have said that advice to work from home and to stay in for seven days if you have virus symptoms would be in place for up to 18 months.
The only ‘true exit’ from the lockdown would involve a vaccine or treatment, they said.
Taylor Wimpey said trading has ‘inevitably been impacted’ by the virus, but demand has continued, with sales teams continuing remotely.
Elsewhere, rival Vistry Group said it will re-start work on 90 per cent of partnership sites and a ‘significant number’ of housing sites from the start of next week.
The company, which was recently renamed from Bovis Homes, also said it had received 80 cancellations and completed 193 private sales following the pandemic.
And luxury car-maker Aston Martin Lagonda said it will reopen its South Wales factory on May 5. It said it will resume operations at its St Athan facility, following guidelines from Public Health Wales and Public Health England to protect workers.
The company said it will take ‘learnings in terms of health and safety’ into account when it reopens its main car plant in Gaydon, Warwickshire, at a later date.
Both sites have been closed since March 25 due to the pandemic. The firm also announced that its senior leadership team have agreed to a reduction in pay.
It comes as road traffic increased to the highest levels since the lockdown was introduced.
In recent weeks, the number of cars on the road had plummeted to levels last seen in the mid-Fifties.
But official figures have revealed a spike in vehicle usage on Monday, the most recent day with available data, suggesting motorists are beginning to ignore guidance to avoid all but essential travel.
Car usage was more than 40 per cent of normal levels at the start of this week – the highest it’s been since the Prime Minister announced the lockdown at the end of March.
That means the number of cars on the roads has doubled in a week. Officials did not comment on the rise when it was unveiled during yesterday’s Downing Street press conference.
But the figures are likely to worry ministers, who fear a premature relaxing of the lockdown rules could trigger a sudden rise in infections and deaths.
They confirm anecdotal reports that roads have appeared busier than normal in recent days.
There was also evidence that travel on public transport was increasing. Pictures yesterday showed crowded scenes at Tube stations in the capital.
Transport for London has dramatically reduced the number of services that run, but photographs of crammed platforms and carriages suggest increasing numbers of passengers are piling on to the few trains that are running.
Yesterday, pictures showed parts of the M25, M4 and M5 busy with traffic during the morning rush hour, in stark contrast to recent weeks when they have been eerily empty. Separate figures from the AA confirm a rise, as well as an increase in the length of journeys.
Builders are seen working on a construction site today in Lewisham, South East London
Diggers and workers are on the site in Lewisham, South East London, this morning
Builders are back to work on this construction site today in Lewisham, South East London
Construction employees are seen working on the site today in Lewisham, South East London
The motoring group blamed the rise on ‘frustrated households looking for ways to break the boredom’, but also said an increase in online delivery vans could be a factor.
Spokesman Jack Cousens added: ‘Now, arguably more than ever, we need to stay at home to protect ourselves, our loved ones, the NHS and our communities.’
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘Every driver who ventures out unnecessarily risks placing an even greater burden on our emergency services and the NHS.’
After lockdown on March 23, Easter Sunday (April 12) saw the lowest traffic levels, at just over 20 per cent of the pre- lockdown figure.
But last Sunday the figures hit just over 30 per cent – the highest on a Sunday since social distancing began – and they increased another ten percentage points on Monday.
Passengers at Canada Water train station on the London Overground this morning wait for a train
Commuters walk along the platform at Canning Town station in East London this morning
Commuters try to stand apart after boarding a Jubilee line train at Canning Town station this morning
Passengers wait for a London Overground train at Canada Water station in South East London this morning
The traffic data emerged as fast-food chains KFC, Burger King and Five Guys, as well as high street coffee chain Pret a Manger, gradually reopened stores across the country.
And in a sign of a shift in the Government’s strategy, the DIY chain B&Q has been allowed to open 14 shops to test new social distancing measures.
Meanwhile Unite said the latest guidance being given to construction workers was unsafe and placed them at unnecessary risk.
The union said latest operating procedures were issued to coincide with a return to work at a large number of sites this week, particularly in the London area.
The guidance now states that where workers are required to work within two metres of each other, they should ‘work side by side, or facing away from each other, rather than face to face’, the union said.
A man loads up his car with items bought from the B&Q store in Plymouth this morning
Customers observe social distancing rules as they queue outside the B&Q in Plymouth today
A woman wears protective headgear as she stands outside the B&Q in Plymouth today
A man leaves the B&Q store in Plymouth this morning during the lockdown with some paint
A shopper leaves a B&Q store in Leeds, West Yorkshire, this morning with some purchases for his garden
One shopper carries a purchase on a trolley this morning after visiting the B&Q store in Leeds, West Yorkshire
A sign reminds shoppers to remain two metres apart at a B&Q store in Leeds this morning after it reopened
When this is not possible and workers have to work ‘face to face’ within two metres of each other, workers should ‘keep this to 15 minutes or less where possible’.
Guernsey will be the first place in Britain to partially lift lockdown
Guernsey is set to be the first place in Britain to partially lift lockdown as gardeners, mechanics, estate agents and builders return to work.
Some businesses on the Channel Island have been told they may start fully or partially operating again from Saturday.
They include gardening, building and other trades with no household contact, building wholesale and supply and vehicle servicing, maintenance and repairs.
Property sales, rentals, and business transactions will also be able to resume.
All changes are subject to meeting social distancing and hygiene requirements and authorities said the key message to the community was still to stay at home.
The government said it represents a series of limited extensions to permitted activities which will gradually allow people back into the workplace in a controlled way.
However, if the public health evidence indicates that this approach should be reversed in order to protect the community, that will be done.
Director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink said evidence available has led to being in a position where she feels confident in easing some of the current strict restrictions on businesses that have been in place since lockdown.
She said: ‘It will certainly not be business as usual for those who can resume work from Saturday, and businesses absolutely need to carefully read the guidance and stick to it as we cannot allow the community’s hard work in responding to this virus to be undone.
‘We have always said our decisions will be based on evidence and while that has enabled us to take this step, we cannot guarantee that in the future we won’t need to tighten the restrictions again if the evidence dictates it.’
Unite has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma warning that workers’ lives were being endangered.
The union has also launched a hotline so that workers can report concerns and provide evidence of unsafe working practices.
Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: ‘Construction workers’ health is being threatened by watered down advice. Alok Sharma must step in immediately and have these defective procedures withdrawn.
‘We sincerely hope that this is not a case of the economy being put before the health of construction workers and their families.
‘Unite’s position remains unchanged – no site should be working unless it can do so safely and that means two-metre social distancing must be maintained at all times.
‘Contractors and clients also have a moral duty of care for workers from when they leave their home to when they return.
‘Construction workers should not be forced to use overcrowded public transport, potentially endangering their health and that of our key workers.
‘If our members believe their health is being directly compromised, they should stop work and seek the assistance of Unite.’
A campaign was launched weeks ago to stop building work on everything other than essential projects, such as those for the NHS.
A spokesman for the #shutthesites campaign said: ‘Even when safely social distancing, I am restricted by law from sitting on a park bench, chatting to a neighbour or visiting my family.
‘Yet I can travel 40 miles into central London on public transport whilst mixing with genuine key workers to work hand in hand with other construction workers.
‘The priorities of this Government are economy over workers’ health and the new Construction Leadership Council Site Operating Procedures does not alleviate the worries of hundreds of thousands of construction workers on site today.’
A spokesman for the Blacklist Support Group added: ‘When construction workers go to work, they share minibuses, travel on packed Tubes, eat in crowded canteens, go up in full hoists, use palm print entry systems and live in barrack-style accommodation on site.
Cars and lorries travel along the M5 motorway near Bristol this morning
The M5 motorway near Bristol is pictured looking busier during rush hour this morning
The M5 motorway near Bristol during rush hour today as people head out during lockdown
The empty M5 is pictured in Worcestershire on Good Friday at the start of the Easter weekend
‘Construction is a dirty, dangerous place at the best of times with notoriously poor welfare facilities, where the very process requires people to work in close proximity. Coronavirus will spread like wildfire in these circumstances.’
Yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was confident the country was at the peak of the disease, but stressed that continued social distancing was needed to bring the number of new cases down.
Those who do leave the house are told to keep a safe distance of two metres apart where they can.
All retailers selling non-essential items have been told to close, leaving only a small list of shops open, including supermarkets and newsagents.
Britain has so far seen more than 133,000 cases, of which 18,000 people have died.