What will life be like after July 19? Whitehall leak reveals plans for ‘New Normal’

17 June 2021, 06:44 | Updated: 17 June 2021, 08:33

Ministers are looking at plans on how to live with Covid-19 long term
Ministers are looking at plans on how to live with Covid-19 long term. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

The ‘new normal’ after Covid-19 lockdown restrictions come to an end could mean sweeping changes to the way millions of people live and work, according to leaked plans reportedly being considered by Government.

According to a leaked Whitehall document seen by website Politico, the government is looking at ways for the country to “live with Covid” after July 19.

The document includes plans to possibly make people wear facemasks forever in some circumstances, and tougher winter restrictions as more people start to meet indoors where risk of transmission is higher.

The plans also explore giving workers the right to a “hybrid” approach to office work, scrapping mandatory working from home, the continuation of quarantine for people with symptoms, and minimum standards for ventilation indoors.

READ MORE: Covid cases rise 'exponentially' across England but vaccines work - study

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The document says ministers should not actively tell people to return to the office even once restrictions are lifted. However, it also states mandatory working from home should be scrapped.

Some senior ministers are already said to be firmly opposed to the proposals.

One expert told LBC today that Covid measures should be about keeping people safe rather than restricting them.

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Spi-B group of behavioural scientists advising ministers, said: "Economically it costs us far more to allow the infection to spread than to stop it."

He added: "When people talk about Covid measures, actually people always think it means restrictions, a lot of the Covid measures should be about supporting us to keep us safe without restricting us and that's what we need to be thinking about and we haven't really been doing it."

Prof Reicher continued: "When you look again at the figures overall you find that the countries which have been most robust in dealing with Covid, which have had the strongest public health measures and therefore have saved most lives, are also those who (have) economically done best so have been able to reopen."

The plans also include stronger measures to curb the virus in winter when more people will start to meet indoors and that for the foreseeable future anyone with symptoms will be told to stay at home until they get a negative test.

Government scientists want to bring an end to the culture of people coming in to work with cold-like symptoms which could potentially be early signs of the Delta strain of Covid-19.

In other plans:

  • New rules could be brought in to ensure work places are well ventilated
  • Face masks could be required in some settings long-term
  • Perspex screens that have been installed in some offices are likely to be scrapped as they have little effect and could even increase transmission risk.

The proposals are all being considered as part of what will be needed after England moves into Step 4 of the roadmap out of lockdown.

A government spokesman told Politico that no decisions have been made on what measures will be needed after July 19.

They told the website: “We have paused at Step 3 for up to four weeks due to the new Delta variant, and we will continue to assess the latest data on this variant over the coming weeks.”

It comes as scientists say a surge in coronavirus cases in England is being driven by younger and mostly unvaccinated age groups.

The latest React study from Imperial College London found cases are doubling every 11 days, with the highest prevalence in the North West.

Scientists say expanding the vaccine programme to the over 18s should help substantially reduce the overall growth of the virus.

But Dr Gabriel Scally, a member of the Independent Sage group, says we can't rely solely on the success of the vaccines. He told LBC: "Measles is one of the most infectious viruses we have. This coronavirus is starting to get to that level. Happily we have got effective vaccines. What we need are vaccines plus.

"We also need to make some changes and do things rather differently from the way we are doing them."