LONDON: Britain's Indian-origin Finance Minister Rishi Sunak is drawing up a blueprint to gradually ease the strict social distancing measures in place to suppress the spread of the coronavirus and get workplaces across the UK up and running again, according to a media report on Saturday.
The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is at the forefront of the UK's economic response to the pandemic, is said to be drafting plans for "COVID-secure" offices to allow non-essential businesses to reopen in a safe and practical way.
According to a report in The Times, businesses will have to put up signs telling workers to remain two metres apart from one another and instruct staff to go home if they have symptoms of COVID-19. Companies will also be told to close "communal spaces" such as canteens, unless people are able to socially distance, and to ensure there is a widespread supply of hand-washing facilities and hand gel.
Sunak has spoken to finance ministers in France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Australia about their approach to relaxing restrictions, the newspaper claims. The government has identified a four-fold approach to easing the lockdown based on the approaches of other nations.
It includes opening non-essential sectors, opening schools and changing working patterns, scaling up of testing and contact tracing and reinforcing hand washing and other protective measures. Ministers are examining preliminary steps taken by Germany, which has allowed small shops to reopen while observing social distancing.
The first restriction that is likely to be eased is to allow the reopening of garden centres, the report claims.
Meanwhile, train companies are drawing up plans to run an almost full timetable within three weeks, with the government telling operators to prepare for an 80 per cent weekday service from May 18 in case ministers take the decision to partially lift the coronavirus lockdown.
The UK government must by law review the lockdown measures in place at the next three-week mark, which falls on May 7.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been off work and recuperating from COVID-19 at his Chequers countryside retreat, is expected to be back to full-time duties at 10 Downing Street from next week.
The Cabinet is then expected to deliberate on Sunak's blueprint to "get Britain back to work". Johnson has reportedly told allies that he is very cautious about easing restrictions and that his priority is to avoid a second wave of the deadly virus.
The UK's death toll from COVID-19 was edging towards 20,000 this week, with a continuing daily spike in the figures.
However, experts have expressed optimism at some "tentative" signs of progress as the number of hospitalisations related to the virus have been on the downward trajectory in recent days. The government is therefore looking at gradually easing the strict stay at home rules in favour of allowing groups of up to 10 people, known as "clusters" or "bubbles", by the middle of next month or later.