So much for the WFH directive, Boris! Office staff defy PM's call

So much for the WFH directive, Boris! RBS, Natwest and Asda office staff are among thousands defying PM’s home-working call as Tubes and roads are busy

  • Furious Tory backbench MPs have turned on Boris Johnson’s after he unveiled tough coronavirus restrictions
  • Beleaguered PM imposed 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and demanded workers return to WFH
  • Mr Johnson also introduced swingeing measures including £200 starting fines for mask rule-breakers 
  • But business says it has Covid-secure offices and it is safe to help customers and keep economy afloat
  • They said ‘wellbeing of workers’ and business needs meant they were allowed to come back in 

Tens of thousands of Britons defied the Prime Minister’s call to avoid the office today as they headed back to work to save the economy.

Some of the county’s biggest firms declared ‘nothing had changed’ following Boris Johnson’s desk-banging performance last night.

Most had already been allowing staff to split time between home and the office and said their business needs meant it would continue.

Among them are head offices for supermarket chains, as well as high street banks who need to have personnel in their buildings.

Asda, who last month said staff could return to its Leeds HQ, were operating under the same measures today.

While Natwest and RBS, who had 10,000 staff back in throughout the pandemic to help customers, are still having them in their offices. 

It is in stark contrast to Barclays who it was revealed yesterday they were to tell 1,000 staff who had come back to go back to a working from home set-up.

An industry source told MailOnline: ‘Most businesses have covid-secure settings and need people in offices to be able to help their customers.

‘Nothing has changed after the Prime Minister’s speech.’

A NatWest Group spokesperson said its priority had been looking after staff and customers.

They added: ‘Enabling the majority of our colleagues to work from home has allowed us to support our customers in a safe way. For most people, this will continue into 2021.

‘However, we have more than 10,000 colleagues working in branches and offices across the UK – as we have throughout the pandemic – to make sure our customers have access to the support and services they have need.’

Public transport also told the same story with workers packing trains as they headed to their jobs. 

The Tubes were jam-packed again this morning as thousands of Britons continued to make their way into work, defying the Prime Minister’s call to avoid the office

Scores of passengers wearing masks make their way off an Underground train on the Jubilee Line this morning

The Underground was packed with commuters again this morning, despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to stay at home

Furious Tory MPs have turned on ‘authoritarian’ Boris Johnson as he ordered the British public to obey his draconian new coronavirus restrictions – or face an economically devastating second national lockdown 

Executive recruitment consultant Greg Comer, 29, was heading to his office in Waterloo from his home in Greenwich this morning.

He said: ‘I saw the Prime Minister’s speech last night about working from home if you can and I believe there has to be a balance struck between pushing forward economic activity and concerns over health.

‘Personally I find working in an office environment much more beneficial in terms of work rate and practicality.

‘I enjoy interacting with members of my team in person to get a bit of a buzz going.

‘The office has been open since July 16 and I’ve been in every working day since.

‘We’re working to about 25 per cent capacity, there’s about 10-12 of us In the office out of a team of 40 so we’re able to easily observe social distancing guidelines.

‘Maybe going in to the office is a risk, maybe travelling in on public transport is a risk but until we get a much more distinct set of instructions from the government, like during the first lockdown, then I think many people will continue to take those risks.’ 

Following the huge U-turn, the premier faced fire from all sides, with small business owners saying they will go bust if staff stayed home. 

Catherine McGuinness, policy chair for the City of London Corporation, the local authority for the Square Mile, said it is “disappointed” over new coronavirus guidance for workplaces.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Clearly safety has to come first and we’re at a moment when measures need to be taken.

“But we are disappointed at the blanket call for office workers to return to working from home where possible.

“Firms have taken huge steps to make sure that their offices are Covid-secure. It’s clear that this virus isn’t going to go away quickly so we need to find a way of living with it that doesn’t cripple our economy.”

She claimed other financial centres had people back in the office without apparent related increases in infection and called on the Government to look “really closely” at coronavirus evidence.

Ms McGuinness said the City of London Corporation would be asking companies to comply with government guidance, but highlighted that the fourth-quarter forecast was “looking very bad” and there were “job losses down the road”.

She also said she was “concerned” about the knock on effect on local supporting businesses.

“We’re not happy, we are disappointed and we feel that this will set back the recovery, but… we have to take steps at this difficult time,” she added.

Further restrictions, which could last for well into next year, will see pubs and other leisure and hospitality businesses like restaurants face a 10pm curfew from Thursday.

People working in retail, those travelling in taxis, and staff and customers in indoor hospitality will also have to wear face coverings – except while seated at a table to eat or drink.

Waterloo Station was at the same level of use as before the Prime Minister’s announcements yesterday to the public

Waterloo station had workers milling around to head to the office during rush hour this morning

In a grave Commons statement the Prime Minister warned that the new curbs could last for six months – taking them well beyond Christmas – ‘unless we palpably make progress’.  

Mr Johnson was barbed for introducing new measures including a 10pm pub curfew and £200 fines for mask rule-breakers among new restrictions on social settings in England.

The PM also announced he is making the British Army available to help the police enforce stringent new coronavirus rules.

He said officers will now have the ‘option to draw on military support where required’ to free up staff so more can crackdown on rule-breakers as he revealed fines are being doubled to £200.

But Downing Street ruled out deploying soldiers on the streets, saying they would be used for ‘backfilling certain duties, such as office roles and guarding protected sites, so police can be out enforcing the virus response’.

Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation Ken Marsh slammed the announcement as ‘a nonsense’ and National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales John Apter said it ‘lacked any detail’.

Meanwhile Chief Executive of UKHospitality Kate Nicholls described the restrictions as ‘another crushing blow’ for many businesses. 

Responding to the address, Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said: ‘We all want nothing more than to beat this dreadful virus and get back to normal. 

‘Sadly, today’s statement from the Prime Minister confirms this is a long way off and there will be difficult times ahead. 

‘The Prime Minister must take responsibility for what has gone wrong, and apologise for the chaotic failure of his ”world beating” test and trace system. It is inexcusable that this vital test and trace operation has been totally overwhelmed in recent weeks. 

‘Ministers must outline details of the practical steps they are taking to fix the test and trace system as quickly as possible. This is the only way to avoid yet more restrictions.

‘With millions of people worried about their jobs, businesses and livelihoods, the Prime Minister must also urgently set out a new economic plan, including the extension of furlough and more help for the self-employed and small business.’

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