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The once-regular weekly meeting will be chaired by the Prime Minister on a physical level for the first time since March and will take place in a large room at the Foreign Office. They will be told to wash their hands at the start and end of the meeting and will also be given individual water jugs and classes to prevent contamination, but Downing Street has said it is “not expecting” them to wear face coverings. This risks sparking fury among the British public and opposition ministers, as the Government’s own guidelines state people working together should be “wearing face coverings when distances of two metres cannot be kept in indoor environments where possible”.
The Cabinet last met in person on March 17 – just days before lockdown began, with Mr Johnson since using videoconferencing equipment to meet ministers remotely.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “As we move forward with the coronavirus recovery and more people return to work in person, the Prime Minister felt that it was right for the Cabinet to come together and have a face-to-face meeting.
“Essentially we will be following all the COVID-secure guidance we set out for businesses when they are considering having this kind of meeting.”
Asked whether ministers would be wearing face coverings, he spokesman: “I’m not expecting so.”
He added: “It is a large room that has been chosen in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and it will be properly ventilated and in terms of the steps which are being taken there will be a supply of hand sanitiser and members of the Cabinet will have individual water jugs and glasses and they will be socially distanced, so that will be to a minimum of one metre.”
Ministers usually sit closely together around the famous coffin-shaped table in 10 Downing Street, but on this occasion they will use the vast Locarno Suite of the Foreign Office.
The gold-painted staterooms, which are often used for meetings with world leaders visiting Downing Street, will now play host to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet meetings until the coronavirus crisis is deemed over.
On Friday, Mr Johnson unveiled an updated timetable around further easing lockdown measures, and scaling back working from home to urge businesses to bring employees back to the work place.
He lifted restrictions on using public transport, and workers are being encouraged to resume their regular commutes from next month.
But the latest announcements come with the Prime Minister under pressure for the Government’s often conflicting advice on face coverings.
Despite Mr Johnson’s announcing they would have to be worn in shops, scientists are urging ministers to make them compulsory at work, as well as on public transport.
During the briefing on Friday, Mr Johnson said he hopes the UK will be back to something close to normal by Christmas.
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Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty – who have both regularly appeared alongside the Prime minister during major coronavirus briefings – were both notably absent from the press conference.
This further fueled speculation ministers and their scientific experts are at loggerheads over coronavirus guidance for the British public and businesses.
Just 24 hours earlier, Sir Patrick appeared before MPs but said there is “absolutely no reason” to change the current work from home guidance.
He warned the UK is “still at a time when distancing measures are important” and that working remotely “remains a perfectly good option”.
Sir Patrick told the Science and Technology Committee: “I think my view on this, and I think this is a view shared by Sage, is that we’re still at a time when distancing measures are important.
“And, of the various distancing measures, working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it’s easy to do.=
“I think a number of companies think it’s actually not detrimental to productivity.
“And in that situation, absolutely no reason I can see to change it.”
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