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UK's Rishi Sunak urges return to office as firms set to scrap masks and distancing rules

·3-min read
WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak arrives at Wolverhampton Art Gallery during a visit to Wolverhampton to mark the one-year anniversary of the Plan for Jobs on July 7, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England. (Photo by Jacob King - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The chancellor said Brits should head back to the workplace as soon as the government’s 'work from home' guidance is lifted on 19 July. Photo: Jacob King - WPA Pool/Getty Images

UK chancellor Rishi Sunak has urged workers to return to the office as soon as possible, saying he fears young people could lose out on vital experience the longer they work remotely. 

The intervention comes as ministers prepare to drop rules requiring face masks and social distancing within offices.

The chancellor said Brits should head back to the workplace as soon as the government’s work from home guidance is lifted on 19 July. Sunak told the Telegraph that employees working remotely via Zoom throughout the pandemic was “not great”, particularly for those at the beginning their careers.

“I think for young people, especially, that ability to be in your office, be in your workplace and learn from others more directly, is something that's really important and I look forward to us slowly getting back to that,” he said.

Sunak spent time in the West Midlands on Thursday and met apprentices at a car mechanic training centre who had returned to the workplace.

“They were over the moon, because they've spent six months trying to learn on Zoom and Teams and everything else, and it hasn't been great,” he told the Telegraph.

“They were saying actually being in, and most importantly, getting the support from their mentors, has been really valuable to them.”

Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson said bosses would be given discretion over whether their employees should return to the office.

“The rest is really for employers and employees to work out for themselves,” he said.

Watch: Rishi Sunak hints isolation rules to be relaxed for people pinged by app

Sunak's comments come as ministers are set to tell firms next week that employees can work in offices without face masks, social distancing and other preventative measures.

According to the Financial Times, the government is set to revise and condense its guidance to employers around how to make workplaces COVID secure. An insider said the new guidance would feature a “broad relaxation” of rules. 

A senior government official told the FT: “These issues will become less for government and more the responsibility of employers."

Revised guidance is set to be published next week.

The news comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India, continues to spread across the UK. On Friday, Public Health England (PHE) said that the number of coronavirus infections linked to the dominant Delta variant had increased by 54,268 in the past week, a rise of 34%.

Read more: Delta variant concerns: Can I cancel my flight this summer?

The rapid outbreak caused the UK to delay the full reopening of its economy by at least four weeks and some scientific advisors have expressed alarm at the government's continued commitment to relaxing restrictions.

The Delta variant currently accounts for approximately 99% of confirmed cases of coronavirus across the UK. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19 globally.

Watch: Health Insider weighs in on vaccine protection against Delta variant

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