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UPDATE 2-UK transport minister: "It is now safe to return to work"

Fri, 28th Aug 2020 08:29

(Adds economist comment)

LONDON, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Britain's government is urging
people to return to their offices and workplaces to help the
economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, transport minister
Grant Shapps said on Friday.

"Our central message is pretty straightforward: we are
saying to people it is now safe to return to work," he told LBC
radio.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will launch a campaign
extolling the virtues of returning to the office while a new
online tool will help people avoid the most crowded trains and
buses, a report in The Telegraph newspaper said.

According to the Centre for Cities think tank, only 17% of
workers in British cities had returned to their workplaces by
early August.

Last month Johnson encouraged people working from home to
get back to their workplaces to help the economy recover from
its 20% contraction in the April-June period, the largest fall
among big developed economies.

Businesses suffering from reduced numbers of people in city
centres range from sandwich shops such as the Pret a Manger
chain - which is cutting more than a third of its workforce - to
landlords worried about lower demand for office space.

The Confederation of British Industry's director-general,
Carolyn Fairbairn, said on Thursday that some city centres
resembled ghost towns, and backed calls for people to return to
offices.

But many other business leaders and economists think the
move is premature, and that it would be counterproductive to
resist much of the shift towards working from home.

"I think it is looking at things through the wrong end of
the telescope," said Andrew Sentance, a former Bank of England
policymaker who now advises consultancy Cambridge Econometrics.

"We should be thinking about the type of economy that will
emerge from this big shock, and trying to allow firms to adapt."
(Reporting by Marc Jones and Paul Sandle; additional reporting
by David Milliken; editing by Elizabeth Piper and Stephen
Addison)

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