Scientists on the SAGE Board, which is advising government during the Covid-19 pandemic, told Ministers that everyone should work at home to prevent further deaths, but Johnson has left this decision up to employers.
In a document dated 21 September 2020, but only made publicly available this week, SAGE advised that the government should return to a strict regime like that imposed in May for a period of two weeks as a ‘circuit breaker’.
Doing so would delay the transmission of the virus by 28 days, the scientists predicted.
While this national lockdown would only need to last two-three weeks, work at home measures should be adopted by everyone who can “immediately” and “indefinitely”, the document says.
Official guidance instructs workers to stay home where possible, but there is no legal requirement on employers to follow this guidance.
It seems a renewed push for home working arrangements to be adopted would be necessary, as the report points out that the proportion of people working from home has fallen from 40% in June to 20% in September.
SAGE reported that cases are increasing in all age groups and all areas and hospitalisations could reach 3,000 per day by the end of October. They warned that “not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences”.
They also cautioned that already disadvantaged groups will be disproportionately impacted by this second wave of the disease, including BAME communities and low paid workers.
Other recommendations on top of working from home and implementing a two-three week “circuit breaker” were banning all contacts between households; closing restauurants, bars, cafes, gyms and personal services such as hairdressers; and moving higher education tuition online.
Individual measures taken alone would be unlikely to be effective, SAGE warned, stressing that the more measures are implemented and adhered to the greater the effect.
The Guardian pointed out that the timing of this document’s publication was in itself suspect. Although such briefings are usually made available every Friday lunchtime, this one was published at 8.20pm on Monday (12 October 2020), just after Boris Johnson announced his new ‘three tier’ system of Covid-19 restrictions.