UK to ramp up return-to-workplace campaign after COVID slump

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will urge people this week to get back to their places of work, ramping up Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s calls to revive the economy after its hammering during the coronavirus lockdown.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a face mask crosses a bridge in front of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

The government will launch a media campaign to explain to workers that they will be safe if they return to their offices and other places of employment.

Data has shown only 17% of workers in British cities had returned to their workplaces by early August, and one business leader said last week that big urban centres looked like ghost towns.

The government hopes that reopening schools, which began in England this week, will allow parents to go back to their workplaces after working from home since March in many cases.

“People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country and quite right too,” Johnson said.

A spokesman was unable to say what data this was based upon.

Johnson also said the government would keep a grip on any increase in infections: “We are absolutely confident that we are going to be able to deal with those outbreaks.”

Britain, slower than most European countries to order a lockdown when the pandemic swept the world, has suffered Europe’s highest death toll from COVID-19.

Bank of England officials fear households will be slow to regain confidence.

Britain’s economic output shrank by more than 20% in the April-June period, the most severe contraction among large industrialised nations, and there are signs that recovery has been modest so far.

As of Aug. 28, mobility on public transport remained down by half compared with usual levels in London as a whole, rising to 71% in the City of London financial district, according to data from Google.

By comparison, public transport mobility was down by 32% in Paris and its surrounding region and 19% in Berlin.

A spokesman for Johnson said the government’s campaign would focus on safety.

“The next stage we’ll look at is specifically the guidance on how to get back to work safely and we expect to see that later this week,” the spokesman said.

Reporting by William James, additional reporting by Andy Bruce; writing by William Schomberg; editing by Giles Elgood