Boris Johnson has claimed that “huge numbers” of people are returning to the office amid a government drive to stop people from working from home, despite a lack of evidence.
Pressed on the prime minister’s claim on Tuesday afternoon Downing Street said the PM’s comments were not based on any hard figures, and that he was in fact expressing more of a wish.
Regular figures showing the level of public transport use for today will not be released by the government until next Wednesday.
“People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country, and quite right too,” the prime minister said in comments broadcast from the start of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
“And of course we know that there is still going to be more of this disease, this wretched Covid still to come, and although we know there are going to be more outbreaks we are also absolutely confident that we are going to be able to deal with those outbreaks and bit by bit this incredible country is getting back on its feet.”
Asked whether there were any figures to back up the prime minister’s claim, his spokesperson said he was “very happy to see if there are any early figures”.
The government has signalled it is keen for people to return to the office, in part so they can again spend money in city centres, where businesses that usually service office workers have been struggling.
But despite the PM’s claim, even in government, thousands of Whitehall civil servants are still understood to be working from home, with government department buildings lacking sufficient capacity to safely socially distance their entire workforce at once.
The PCS trade union, which represents many public sector employees, said it did not have figures on how many people were in the office, but warned against forcing people back to their desks when they were working productively from home.
“If the Government or any employer started forcing people back to work and we believed that it was not safe to do so we would consider our legal options, we would secondly give individual legal advice to individuals, but thirdly we would consider whether a collective response was what was required,” Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said.
“As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.”
Pupils are returning to schools this week with extra precautions to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 in classrooms. Teachers’ unions have raised concerns about how education workers will be protected in practice.
Figures released last week showed the London Underground was operating at around 30 per cent of its ordinary load on weekdays, with London buses over 50 per cent and buses across the rest of the country on 40 per cent.
Across the whole country national rail use is still around 30 per cent of normal on weekdays. All modes of transport are reporting slightly higher use on weekends.
Across the country, car traffic is at around 90 per cent of normal on weekdays and nearing 100 per cent on weekends, while cycling levels are thought to be at around 120 per cent of normal, though highly volatile.