Gove is right: face masks should be about common sense

13 Jul

Over the last few months, the Government has been repeatedly quizzed about whether it will more strictly enforce face masks. While it’s compulsory to wear them on public transport, there have been calls to extend the rules to all indoor spaces. Writing for the FT, Nick Boles, the former MP for Grantham and Stamford, said that it’s “dangerously lax” to not use them in further settings, and others have unfavourably compared England to Scotland, where masks are mandatory in shops.

Criticisms heightened this weekend after the Government sent out a series of mixed messages on the subject. On Friday, Boris Johnson said that a “stricter” approach was needed on wearing masks in shops, and indicated that he and other advisers would be looking into the guidance. Two days later, while interviewed by Andrew Marr, Michael Gove said that wearing a mask in a shop was “basic good manners”, but that coverings should not be mandatory. Then today Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, said that mask-wearing “isn’t just an act of courtesy”, but about “consumer confidence”.

The Government is under even more pressure to rethink its position on masks as the scientific case for them appears to have advanced. New research from the Royal Society Data Evaluation and Learning for Viral Epidemics initiative suggests that their “use could reduce onward transmission by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic wearers if widely used in situations where physical distancing is not possible or predictable”.

It points out that 40 to 80 per cent of infections occur from individuals without symptoms; that respiratory droplets are a major mode of transmission, and that face masks reduce droplet dispersal.

While ConservativeHome supported the initial emergency measures to control the pandemic, including lockdown, this site is not convinced that the state should further mandate face masks, and rather agrees with Gove’s common sense approach. 

During the start of the pandemic, given the amount of unknowns about Coronavirus, the Government was left with little choice but to increase its powers, lest there was civil disobedience and the virus was passed about. But it should be increasingly withdrawing these now, empowering individuals to make safe decisions. Not least because we could be living with Covid-19 for a very long time. 

This is not only a philosophical position; the Conservatives also need to be realistic about how Brits would respond to being told to wear face masks in shops when they are already doing this on public transport. The more rules, the less people may comply with the existing ones – especially when they are worn out by lockdown.

Additionally, polling by Ipsos-MORI has shown that Brits are one of the most sceptical nations about face masks. This is not only because they have never faced a health crisis of this sort – in the way China and Hong Kong have (post-SARS), making masks more routine – but they tend to think the measure is over-cautious.

Indeed, the RC’s Science in Emergencies Tasking group found in April that the UK had 25 per cent compliance for face masks compared to 83 per cent in Italy, 66 per cent in the US and 64 per cent in Spain. Intriguingly, data has shown that Northerners, Conservatives, Leave voters and men are some of the least likely to wear them.

Some have suggested that “moral framing” is what could encourage more mask wearing; in other words, pointing out the altruistic benefits of wearing them. This seems quite sensible; it is much better for the Government to demonstrate the statistical evidence for them (if there is enough) rather than force compliance, which should be avoided as much as possible.

Mandating health activities, like lockdown, has always been treated as the honourable thing to do. Sadiq Khan and Nicola Sturgeon clearly believe that telling people to wear face masks gives them the moral high ground. But my personal view, having had to sport one in London most days, is that it’s infantilising and a state overreach – to be told to wear them in announcements.

The Conservatives, if they ever do mandate face masks, will struggle to impose them anyway, as they have been so inconsistent in their messaging. There’s also no way shop staff in busy stores can impose the rule. But ultimately Tories must not forget their fundamental principles; individual responsibility is paramount, even in a pandemic.

Stephen Booth: Joining the CPTPP is how this country can show it’s serious about being “Global Britain”

9 Jul

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that in the wake of the pandemic the Government will “double down on levelling up”. It is clear that the domestic political agenda will be driven by this overriding social and economic objective, not to mention electoral imperative, as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis.

However, the UK also needs a narrative for its new place in the world, which promotes our interests and frames how we would like to be viewed by others. The question is not so much what Global Britain should “stand for”: the rules-based international system, open markets, defence of human rights and the rule of law. The question is by what means does the UK continue to further its interests and values in the new post-Brexit, post-corona world and how best do we resource ourselves to do so.

Ultimately, medium-sized powers will struggle to achieve their global ambitions on their own: the UK must invest in deepening its networks of alliances and building new relationships to form effective coalitions. And in that regard, next year will be an important one for UK diplomacy.

The UK’s exit from the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021 will coincide with the UK taking on the annual presidency of the G7 and hosting the delayed UN climate summit, COP26. The UK has placed itself at the forefront of the ambition to build a “greener and more resilient global economy.” Meanwhile, the pandemic has also delayed to next year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference, the organisation’s topmost decision-making body that usually meets every two years.

Trade is the area of UK international engagement most transformed by Brexit, since 2021 marks the point at which full responsibility for trade policy returns to the UK. Brexit also emphasises the need for the UK to recalibrate its relationships with the world’s three major economic and geopolitical hubs – North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

The pandemic has resulted in a steep decline in global trade when protectionism is already on the rise, fuelled by increasing US-China tensions that look set to continue. The current crisis has understandably prompted calls for greater national resilience.

Strategic stockpiling for a limited array of products may be part of the solution. But the UK’s wider interest is served by counting on security and diversity of supply chains. The UK must also seek to influence the terms of trade in services, data and the new technologies, where our comparative advantage increasingly lies. This requires international rules and willing allies to uphold them.

Multilateral efforts at the WTO would be best, but these have faltered in recent years. The Government is therefore embarking on an ambitious strategy of concluding free trade agreements covering 80 per cent of UK trade within the next three years.

As we know, negotiations with the European Union are in a critical phase and while the prospect of a deal before the end of the year looks more promising, it is not guaranteed. Talks with the US have begun and any conclusion will now have to wait until after the Presidential election later this year. The UK may be able to make swifter progress with Asia-Pacific economies.

The top priority is securing a successor agreement with Japan, as the existing EU-Japan deal will cease to apply to the UK in January. Japan is keen to move quickly on a bespoke agreement. The UK has also officially opened negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

All of these agreements, and a Japan deal in particular, would provide trade benefits in their own right but the bigger strategic prize is UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP is the third largest trade area in the world and has been signed by 11 countries around the Pacific rim, including Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Last week, Policy Exchange held a webinar with a stellar cast to discuss the UK’s accession to CPTPP. It was surely significant that Liz Truss, Trade Secretary in this “Get Brexit Done” government, and Lord Mandelson, an arch-Remainer, both stressed the strategic value of the UK joining.

Truss made it clear that she sees CPTPP as “part of a broader strategy of the UK becoming a central hub in a network of free trade agreements, a networked Britain if you like rather than a fortress Britain.” Lord Mandelson emphasised that the process may take time but “the UK aligning itself with a Pacific Rim agenda of this kind is a good thing.”

Chan Chun Sing, the current Singaporean Trade Minister, stressed how keen he would be to see the UK join, while Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister, noted that joining “would be the best possible sign that Britain really does want to be a global country again.”

Joining CPTPP will not be without its challenges. Stephen Harper, the former Canadian Prime Minister, noted that “[j]oining a plurilateral trade agreement is not frankly going to be a matter of a lot of negotiation. The others are largely going to have a take it or leave it approach.” He added, “You can seek tailor-made provisions, but that will add time to what will be a long process”.

Nevertheless, the prize would be hugely strategically significant. Grouping together with like-minded nations would provide the UK with a new platform to promote global trade liberalisation and multilateral reform.

It would enable the UK to join others in addressing China’s global rise from a greater position of collective strength. Indeed, this was an original objective of the project. Although potentially a long process, UK accession might help to convince the US to join the agreement, following President Trump’s decision to pull out of the precursor Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As Harper noted, Britain joining would offer some significant advantages to the existing members. “This would go from being a purely regional pact to now being the beginning of an alternative global order,” he said.

It might be tempting to view “Global Britain” as a distraction or diversion from pressing domestic issues. However, it is a necessary compliment to levelling up. Global Britain does not just mean reaching out to other countries, it means enabling more of the country to benefit from and compete in a globalised world. Moving forward with the CPTPP would demonstrate that the UK is serious about furthering both of these goals.

Stephen Booth: Joining the CPTPP is how this country can show it’s serious about being “Global Britain”

9 Jul

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that in the wake of the pandemic the Government will “double down on levelling up”. It is clear that the domestic political agenda will be driven by this overriding social and economic objective, not to mention electoral imperative, as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis.

However, the UK also needs a narrative for its new place in the world, which promotes our interests and frames how we would like to be viewed by others. The question is not so much what Global Britain should “stand for”: the rules-based international system, open markets, defence of human rights and the rule of law. The question is by what means does the UK continue to further its interests and values in the new post-Brexit, post-corona world and how best do we resource ourselves to do so.

Ultimately, medium-sized powers will struggle to achieve their global ambitions on their own: the UK must invest in deepening its networks of alliances and building new relationships to form effective coalitions. And in that regard, next year will be an important one for UK diplomacy.

The UK’s exit from the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021 will coincide with the UK taking on the annual presidency of the G7 and hosting the delayed UN climate summit, COP26. The UK has placed itself at the forefront of the ambition to build a “greener and more resilient global economy.” Meanwhile, the pandemic has also delayed to next year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference, the organisation’s topmost decision-making body that usually meets every two years.

Trade is the area of UK international engagement most transformed by Brexit, since 2021 marks the point at which full responsibility for trade policy returns to the UK. Brexit also emphasises the need for the UK to recalibrate its relationships with the world’s three major economic and geopolitical hubs – North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

The pandemic has resulted in a steep decline in global trade when protectionism is already on the rise, fuelled by increasing US-China tensions that look set to continue. The current crisis has understandably prompted calls for greater national resilience.

Strategic stockpiling for a limited array of products may be part of the solution. But the UK’s wider interest is served by counting on security and diversity of supply chains. The UK must also seek to influence the terms of trade in services, data and the new technologies, where our comparative advantage increasingly lies. This requires international rules and willing allies to uphold them.

Multilateral efforts at the WTO would be best, but these have faltered in recent years. The Government is therefore embarking on an ambitious strategy of concluding free trade agreements covering 80 per cent of UK trade within the next three years.

As we know, negotiations with the European Union are in a critical phase and while the prospect of a deal before the end of the year looks more promising, it is not guaranteed. Talks with the US have begun and any conclusion will now have to wait until after the Presidential election later this year. The UK may be able to make swifter progress with Asia-Pacific economies.

The top priority is securing a successor agreement with Japan, as the existing EU-Japan deal will cease to apply to the UK in January. Japan is keen to move quickly on a bespoke agreement. The UK has also officially opened negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

All of these agreements, and a Japan deal in particular, would provide trade benefits in their own right but the bigger strategic prize is UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP is the third largest trade area in the world and has been signed by 11 countries around the Pacific rim, including Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Last week, Policy Exchange held a webinar with a stellar cast to discuss the UK’s accession to CPTPP. It was surely significant that Liz Truss, Trade Secretary in this “Get Brexit Done” government, and Lord Mandelson, an arch-Remainer, both stressed the strategic value of the UK joining.

Truss made it clear that she sees CPTPP as “part of a broader strategy of the UK becoming a central hub in a network of free trade agreements, a networked Britain if you like rather than a fortress Britain.” Lord Mandelson emphasised that the process may take time but “the UK aligning itself with a Pacific Rim agenda of this kind is a good thing.”

Chan Chun Sing, the current Singaporean Trade Minister, stressed how keen he would be to see the UK join, while Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister, noted that joining “would be the best possible sign that Britain really does want to be a global country again.”

Joining CPTPP will not be without its challenges. Stephen Harper, the former Canadian Prime Minister, noted that “[j]oining a plurilateral trade agreement is not frankly going to be a matter of a lot of negotiation. The others are largely going to have a take it or leave it approach.” He added, “You can seek tailor-made provisions, but that will add time to what will be a long process”.

Nevertheless, the prize would be hugely strategically significant. Grouping together with like-minded nations would provide the UK with a new platform to promote global trade liberalisation and multilateral reform.

It would enable the UK to join others in addressing China’s global rise from a greater position of collective strength. Indeed, this was an original objective of the project. Although potentially a long process, UK accession might help to convince the US to join the agreement, following President Trump’s decision to pull out of the precursor Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As Harper noted, Britain joining would offer some significant advantages to the existing members. “This would go from being a purely regional pact to now being the beginning of an alternative global order,” he said.

It might be tempting to view “Global Britain” as a distraction or diversion from pressing domestic issues. However, it is a necessary compliment to levelling up. Global Britain does not just mean reaching out to other countries, it means enabling more of the country to benefit from and compete in a globalised world. Moving forward with the CPTPP would demonstrate that the UK is serious about furthering both of these goals.

Tania Mathias: Social care reform should be Johnson’s legacy as much as Brexit

6 Jul

Tania Mathias is an NHS doctor and former MP for Twickenham.

At the weekend Sir Simon Stevens deftly moved away from the problems during the current pandemic – that have led to NHS doctors protesting outside Downing Street, fears about the lack of PPE, and the paucity of testing – by commenting on the much needed reform of social care which had been highlighted well before SARS-CoV-2 had reached its human host.

Many clapped for the NHS at five o’clock on Sunday. Next year, if we have had progress in medical and social care integration, it could be a clap for NHSCARE.

Theresa May’s manifesto in 2017 addressed the need for social care reform, and we have had a Green Paper promised ever since. Now is a perfect rainbow: we need more people opting to work in the social care sector, and many people in retail and hospitality are facing the need to re-train and look for other jobs. If we can ride the wave of respect and current attention on the NHS, we can direct people seeking work to the care sector.

This year is the opportunity to give more status – financially and culturally – to jobs involving person-to-person care. Several Cabinet Ministers have spoken about the challenge of the fourth industrial revolution. High tech jobs are a dominant need in our society yet the often missed need is the “high touch” or empathetic jobs that are needed yet no artificial intelligence can mimic.

People do not need to have a calling or a vocation to be able to look after another human being who is in need of personal care. The new Job Centre mentors need to look to filling care jobs that also have a career structure to help the thousands of people who suddenly find themselves unemployed.

The Cavendish report addressed the need for a better career structure for care workers. Indeed, better training may have saved lives during this first pandemic peak. For example, who saw the images of the fire brigade workers training care workers how to put on PPE and wondered shouldn’t the care worker being the one to teach the fire brigade how to do this?

Care has been an overlooked career but now is a rainbow opportunity to bring a range of people from different life and job experiences into the care sector to fill vacancies. Instead of furlough, the Government could be subsidising the wages for people entering the care sector.

Longer term the Government could be encouraging companies to give their skills to the care sector. The Territorial Army is a template and now we have a chance to move some of the COVID-19 volunteers into a NHSCARE army, or rather NHSCARE family.

Sir Simon Stevens referenced Beveridge’s five evils. And I am told Margaret Thatcher kept a copy of Beveridge’s report in her famous handbag. I don’t care if that latter anecdote is true or not: the point is Thatcher cared deeply about the end to want, disease, ignorance squalor and idleness. A boost in recruitment in the care sector can address several of these issues at once.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s term of office was expected to be dominated by Brexit. A greater legacy will be a care sector fit for the next 72 years and integrated with a stronger NHS – the birth of NHSCARE. Thatcher would be proud methinks.

Robert Sutton: Top Tories on Twitter. Case Study 5) Steve Baker

3 Jul

Rob Sutton is an incoming junior doctor in Wales and a former Parliamentary staffer. He is a recent graduate of the University of Oxford Medical School.

Number 14 on the Top Tories on Twitter list: Steve Baker

A prominent Eurosceptic in a seat which narrowly voted to remain, Baker’s majority has fallen during recent elections. From a high of 28.9 per cent in 2015, it dropped to 7.7 per cent in 2019. But the verve with which he has pursued his cause has not eased, and he completed his second tenure as chairman of the European Research Group in February.

Baker previously held a junior ministerial position in the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) but resigned shortly after David Davis stepped down as Secretary of State.

During the Conservative leadership contest he briefly considered running and received some positive press, but ultimately threw his weight behind Boris Johnson. When offered the opportunity to return to DExEU as part of the Johnson government, he turned it down.

The backbenches suit him well, and he has used his prominent position to drive support for Johnson’s deal. An influential voice and well respected, Baker is highly principled, putting his beliefs ahead of short-term career opportunism. But his singular mission has failed to win over many of his constituents. He also needs to find a way to stay relevant as we move to the lengthy process of renegotiating our place in the world.

He balances his tweets between popular sentiment and nuanced discussions. He’ll certainly have plenty to discuss in the coming years, but it is uncertain whether he and other prominent Eurosceptic backbenchers will continue to wield the same clout. But given our unprecedented opportunity to reshape our role on the global stage, there will be plenty of time to craft a positive, unifying message.

Johnson, Starmer – and their strategies in firing people

26 Jun

After years of Jeremy Corbyn doing nothing to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, many were astonished yesterday by Keir Starmer’s decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary

He took action after she Retweeted an article by actress Maxine Peake, containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory; namely that Israel was linked to the killing of George Floyd in the US.

According to The Huff Post, Starmer gave Long-Bailey four hours to delete the post and apologise, but she did not do this – also refusing to take calls from his office, culminating in her prompt dismissal.

Many marvelled at Starmer’s decisiveness, using this as evidence for the increasingly fashionable assumption that Conservatives should be worried about him at future elections (one that this writer does not agree with, incidentally; the “taking the knee” photo will haunt him for years).

The move challenged stereotypes of Starmer – that he’s “forensic” and lawyerly in manner – as it was combative, as well as making him look straightforward (certainly something of an achievement after Labour’s past calculations to thwart Brexit).

Starmer’s decision to remove Long-Bailey from his Shadow Cabinet first and foremost reflects his commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism – and thank goodness for that. 

But it may also demonstrate two other things. First, that he is sceptical about Long-Bailey’s overall popularity with the electorate – and wanted to get rid of her anyway. One suspects outside the Twitter bubble, voters overwhelmingly associate her with Corbyn’s dire tenure, and haven’t been won over with her tendency to use phrases such as “democratising the economy” and “progressive patriotism”, as well as her obsession with the “Green Industrial Revolution”.

Second, it arguably gives Starmer more leverage to demand Boris Johnson sacks members of his own team. The Prime Minister has already been under enormous pressure to do this, following the saga with Dominic Cummings, as well as recent attacks on Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary. 

He is accused of trying to force through permission for a development by Richard Desmond – a billionaire donor he “inadvertently” sat next to at a dinner – who then paid £12,000 to the Tories soon after he got the green light.

Newspapers appear to have given up on getting rid of Cummings, and have now turned their sights on Jenrick, perhaps viewing the mild-mannered MP as an easier target. 

Take The Daily Mail (Desmond is the former owner of the Express newspapers, as Iain Dale points out here, incidentally), which accused the Prime Minister of not being decisive enough over his Housing Minister. “It’s also another instance of Boris Johnson failing to act decisively when one of his ministers or senior advisers falls short of the standards the public expect”, read its leader, which praised Starmer’s “non-nonsense approach” and suggested Johnson “should learn from” it.

Anyone reading The Daily Mail over the last few months will know that it’s been consistently against (pro-Brexit) Johnson, so the attack is no surprise – but does the paper have a point? Has he been weak over the Covid-19 crisis when it comes to sacking people? 

The events over the last few months have arguably softened Johnson’s image, with his u-turn on free school meals, and the enormous sums being spent on Covid-19 protections. He comes across as something of a yes man.

With all this, it’s easy to forget that he can be ruthless when it comes to his team. This was clear in his first reshuffle as Prime Minister, in which he sacked Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary, replacing him with Dominic Raab, as well as asking Hunt’s supporters Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt to go. It was “the biggest government clearout since Harold Macmillan’s infamous ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962”, wrote PoliticsHome.

Later on, in what was referred to as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, Johnson fired five Cabinet ministers, including Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary, and Sajid Javid resigned after the Prime Minister demanded he lose his team of advisers. Clearly Johnson is ready to strike if he sees fit to – so his critics will demand why Cummings and Jenrick don’t fit the bill.

This, one suspects, is not part of some grandiose plot, but down to the simple principle of belief: the Prime Minister does not think that either man is in the wrong.

A lot has been said about Cummings, but my own view is that his explanation made sense – and furthermore that No 10 could have gone on the offence in reminding people how unusual his circumstances are. A chief adviser in a nationwide pandemic, living in a house that receives death threats, who’s had the press (seemingly permanently) camped outside, and Covid-19, will have one of the most challenging lockdowns.

Jenricks’ case, on the other hand, is ambiguous and will come increasingly under scrutiny, with Labour now reporting him to parliament’s watchdog.

Text messages between him and Desmond demonstrate the latter to be a pushy character, repeatedly trying to get his housing scheme through. Jenrick seems uncomfortable in response, reminding Desmond that he’s Secretary of State and that he cannot have contact with him “whilst he was making” a “decision with respect to the planning application”.

As Andrew Gimson sets out in his recent profile of Jenrick, one Tory backbencher has described him as “a decent man”; one is less flattering, suggesting that he’s “a suit” – who simply takes orders. He has released 129 pages of emails, texts and letters in total – to clear his name. From reading some of the exchanges, one suspects, if anything, his main issue is being too polite.

Either way there is a false equivalence between what may be a mistake, and Long-Bailey’s disgraceful post. Especially after Starmer cautioned her, it would have been unacceptable for her to stay in her position.

What was especially poignant about yesterday, on a semi-related note, is how shocked members of the Left were with what happened, not used to being on the receiving end of such swift justice.

In recent years, it’s the Right that has been accustomed to its figures being “cancelled” – be it Toby Young’s resignation as Theresa May’s university adviser, or Roger Scruton’s firing after being misquoted.

A big feature of May’s tenure was her inability to stick up to the mob on such matters, as well as the endless departures under her leadership, ranging from misconduct (Gavin Williamson’s dismissal after he leaked highly classified information about 5G) to those leaving on behalf of Brexit strategy.

With his massive majority, Johnson has not faced such a chaos – his team is far more loyal, but it will still remain a priority of the Government to stand strong against the cancel culture fostered by members of the Left.

Yes the Government should dismiss MPs on legitimate grounds – if any investigation shows Jenrick to have deliberately been in the wrong than he has to go – but the Tories no longer need to cave to media pressure and concocted outrage. Voters will respect them for this, too.

Starmer has a totally different goal, however; restoring a sense of moral order to Labour. As aforementioned, I believe his actions this week will only take him so far. Long-Bailey was an easy win for a party that knows Corbynism was a major, defeating factor at the last election.

Showing bravery in other contexts – how about condemning statue-toppling, for starters? – is a much different enterprise. On these less crowd-pleasing matters, Starmer’s “non-nonsense approach” is fairly non-existent. 

July 4: The businesses that are resuming, the rationale for reopening them and the rules that they face

24 Jun

Yesterday there was huge jubilation at the news that pubs, restaurants and staycation resorts, among other facilities, will be able to reopen on July 4.

ConservativeHome has listed which ones will be opening here, but we shall also elaborate on what the guidelines are for each business – as well as explaining why some have not made the cut.

First thing’s first:

What’s clear is that it will not be “business as usual” for employers around the UK, as many will face stringent guidelines around their operations – so as to prevent further outbreaks of Covid-19.

One of these measures will be social distancing.

How far apart?

While the dreaded two-metre (six foot) social distancing rule has been revised, the Prime Minister has recommended people stay a distance of “one metre plus”; in essence, staying at least one metre apart while taking precautionary measures to reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission.

What are these precautionary measures?

Generally businesses are advised to space out customers and staff as much as possible, improve ventilation and keep surfaces (and hands) clean.

The Government has also posted a huge amount of specific guidance for those working in different sectors, such as construction and other outdoor work, hotels and other guest accommodation and the visitor economy, as these each face their own unique challenges.

Pubs, bars and takeaway services

While most Brits cannot wait to rush back to the pub, publicans – and similar business owners – face lots of issues in reopening.

Perhaps the most controversial rule is that customers will have to give their contact details whenever they enter a pub or restaurant – in case they need to be contacted for the Government’s test and trace programme. They will also be limited to table service.

The Government’s guidance for pubs, bars and takeaway services spans a total of 43 pages. Other suggestions for these businesses (and there are many) include:

  • using screens or barriers to separate workers from each other and workers from customers at points of service;
  • calculating the number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing guidelines at a venue;
  • working with local authorities to take into account the impact of processes, such as queues, on high streets, and
  • encouraging customers to use hand sanitiser or handwashing facilities.
Hotels and other guest accommodation

Following the Government’s announcements, lots of Brits can’t wait to book a “staycation”. But these, too, will be mired in complicated measures. The guidance for hotels and other such businesses is fairly similar to that for pubs and restaurants, with suggestions such as:

  • encouraging guests to wear masks on communal corridors;
  • considering minimising lift usage from reception;
  • closing shared facilities, such as communal kitchens, and
  • cleaning keys between guests.
Businesses in “close contact services” (hair salons)

While the Government has refused to open tattoo parlours and nail salons, it is giving hairdressers the green light. But they will be required to wear face masks and visors in order to operate. Other measures for similar companies include:

  • adapting appointments to reduce the interaction and overlap between customers;
  • creating a “one-way flow” of clients through the premises;
  • minimising contact between different workers serving a client (photographers, models and makeup artists, for instance), and
  • encouraging clients to arrive at their scheduled time of appointment.

In addition, all businesses are being encouraged to conduct a risk assessment for Covid-19 in their workplace and then share the results with employees.

The Government has asked employers with over 50 workers to publish the results on their websites, and asked them to display a notification ” in a prominent place in your business and on [their] website” so as to show the public they have taken measures.

Why are some businesses not allowed to open?

During his speech to the House of Commons, Boris Johnson stated that “close proximity venues” would have to stay closed, such as nightclubs, soft-play areas, indoor gyms and swimming pools – although he added that “the business and culture secretaries will establish taskforces with the public health experts and these sectors to help them become Covid-secure and reopen as soon as possible.”

As well as the proximity factor, the decision to reopen outdoors gyms, but not indoors ones, may reflect increasing research that summer sunlight helps to kill off Covid-19. A new study indicates that it can do this in thirty minutes.

Has there been backlash?

Those in the fitness industry have understandably been cross with the Government’s choice of businesses to reopen.

Jane Nickerson, the CEO of Swim England, called the decision “appalling” and told The Times “Many will fail to understand how pubs, restaurants, cinemas, museums and hair salons have been given the go-ahead to open on July 4 but not chlorine-filled swimming pools”.

PureGym has been equally vocal, in a statement saying: “We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms”.

The Government’s ban on cricket – Johnson called the ball “a natural vector of disease” – promoted concern from Greg Clark, the Tory MP, who urged the Prime Minister to “save the season“, as well as Michael Vaughan, former England cricket captain, who said it was “nonsense“.

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, has reassured that the Government was hoping to get sports facilities open by mid-July. But there will be increasingly calls for this to be accelerated – and the Government will, in all likelihood, face increasing demands to explain why these businesses have been singled out.

Any other issues?

As always in the Covid-19 wars, the approach across the United Kingdom has varied depending on region.

In Wales, for instance, tourism providers can only take bookings for stays beginning on July 13. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, nail bars can reopen on July 6.

Nicola Sturgeon has said that pubs and restaurants can re-open from July 15, and still has the two-metre rule in place – making her perhaps the most resistant to England’s move.

So it’s “business as usual” in some senses…