Businesses face fines and tighter restrictions as Covid-19 response intensifies

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tightened restrictions and increased punishments as the Government battles to limit the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The restrictions “may stay in place for six months”, said Johnson, in a statement in the House of Commons.

Yesterday the UK’s Covid alert level was raised back up to 4 and today Johnson said “this is the moment we must act”.

Data is showing that the long-held fear of a second wave in the autumn may be imminent and Johnson’s statement followed a press conference from the Government’s scientific advisors yesterday.

Johnson said: “We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat the prospect of a second wave was real. I’m sorry to say we have reached a perilous turning point.”

Businesses will be subject to fines if they break Covid rules while individuals face greater levels of fines.

He set out a series of measures that he hopes will help reduce the rate of transmission:

– Workers are now being asked to work from home where they can.

– From Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table service only – apart from takeaways – and all must close by 10pm.

– Facemasks must be worn by staff in retail, indoor hospitality and private hire vehicles.

– Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations

– The “rule of six” will be tightened and a maximum of 15 people can now attend weddings. 30 people will be allowed at funerals.

– Measures to open up attendance at sports clubs and business conferences will not now go ahead.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary are “urgently working on measures” to assist these sectors. The live events industry is among the worst-affected of all sectors and the coming end of the furlough scheme is expected to unleash a huge number of redundancies.

Johnson said: “I am sorry that this will affect many businesses getting back on their feet.”

The measures set out by Johnson only relate to England. Large parts of England are already subject to further restrictions as part of the Government’s strategy of local lockdowns.

Johnson is also due to address the nation this evening.

Meanwhile, Scott Knowles, chief executive of East Midlands Chamber has accused the Government of “obfuscation”

He said: “Just a few weeks ago, we were being told to try get back to normal, but many will have heard announcements from the past couple of days and read it as being told to hunker down for the next six months.

“That’s no way for an economy to function and will have a real impact on decision-making among businesses, many of which have invested heavily in making their premises Covid-secure for employees and customers alike.

“To really get the economy moving again, what we need is an effective test and trace system along with better communication from Government about the country’s strategy to overcome this. New or potential measures are being leaked ahead of announcements, have lacked proper detail and caused confusion.

“Obfuscation has real-world impacts in terms of how businesses invest, recruit and plan for growth, and can’t be allowed to continue.”