Michael Gove has revealed a “shift in emphasis” on the government’s push for people to return to offices – with the emphasis now on not actually doing it.
Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday morning, the cabinet office minister said if people can work from home “then we would encourage them to do so.”
In a separate interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he said: “We are stressing that if it is safe to work in your workplace, if you are in a Covid secure workplace, then you should be there if your job requires it.”
Asked if that was a change in government guidance, Gove said “yes”.
Boris Johnson has spent weeks trying to encourage workers to return to offices in a bid to breathe life into town and city centres battered by lockdown restrictions.
Earlier this month, Johnson declared: “People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country – and quite right, too.”
But Downing Street could not supply any evidence for numbers mentioned in his statement, and it emerged later that in greater London bus use rose by just 6% and Tube rose by 8% week-on-week.
Work from home if you can but also lose your job if you don’t go back to the office. Seems perfectly clear to me.— James O'Brien (@mrjamesob) September 22, 2020
Like Groundhog Day. Michael Gove currently on Radio 4 using the phrase 'common sense' repeatedly to paper-over the inconsistency in the government's covid rules.— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) September 22, 2020
The new “emphasis” comes as the government announces a number of new restrictions in light of an increase in coronavirus cases.
Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be ordered to close by 10pm each night from Thursday and Boris Johnson will address the nation on Tuesday evening.
Yet in another notable clarification of the coronavirus guidance, Gove admitted a group of six people could leave a pub at 10pm and then carry on drinking at someone’s house, without breaking the “Rule of Six”.
Michael Gove has just confirmed to the BBC that you can leave the pub at 10pm and go round your mate's house for a few tins - as long as you're not in a group of more than six people.— Dan Bloom (@danbloom1) September 22, 2020
Gove said the government was taking “reluctant steps” with the new coronavirus measures, but added that they are “absolutely necessary”.
“There will be more details that the prime minister will spell out, and again, one of the points that he’ll make is that no one wants to do these things, no one wants to take these steps.
“They are reluctant steps that we’re taking, but they are absolutely necessary.
“Because as we were reminded yesterday, and as you’ve been reporting, the rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, and therefore we need to act.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.