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Coronavirus: Staggered work times considered as lockdown eases

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

Businesses could be asked to stagger employees’ working hours when the lockdown eases, the transport secretary has said.

Grant Shapps told the BBC that the move would help to prevent crowded commutes that risked spreading coronavirus.

Mr Shapps said more buses and trains would run but he hoped to encourage cycling and walking.

He also said he was “actively looking at” quarantining people travelling to the UK from abroad.

A report in the Sunday Times suggested that keeping passengers 2m apart in line with social distancing rules would leave commuter trains with only 15% of their usual capacity when lockdown rules are relaxed.

Mr Shapps told the Andrew Marr Show that the government was looking at a range of options for people to travel to work, including encouraging what he described as a “massive expansion” in interest in “active travel” such as cycling or walking.

“There are a series of different things that we can do including staggering work times, working with businesses and organisations to do that,” he said.

He also said he was working with train companies and unions on maintaining social distancing rules on platforms and at bus stops.

It comes as businesses called for a “carefully phased” plan for lifting lockdown restrictions to be set out immediately, as many say they need weeks to prepare for resuming operations.

Mr Shapps said with testing now available to all staff and residents, infection rates were now falling in care homes as well as other parts of the community.

For that reason, he said he hoped the country would avoid care homes becoming the next “epicentres of transmission” for the virus, as NHS England’s Prof Keith Willet has warned.

Asked whether fewer people would have died if testing capacity had been greater sooner, he said: “Yes.

“If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively I’m sure many things could be different.”

But he said that although the UK has a big pharmaceuticals industry, it does not have a testing industry like Germany’s, making it more difficult to increase test numbers.

Defending the decision not to close airports or introduce screening for international arrivals earlier in the pandemic, Mr Shapps said the advice was that a “complete lockdown of the borders” might only have delayed the virus by three to five days.

“We had millions of people abroad who needed to return home,” he said.

But he said that now the infection rate was falling to a more manageable level, plans for screening and quarantining people travelling to the UK from abroad were “a serious point under consideration”.

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