THE need to return to office life and the debate over the need for face masks were the issues discussed by columnists and contributors in the newspapers.

The Daily Mail

Richard Littlejohn believes the lifting of lockdown has not been ‘the great liberation we were all hoping for.’

“Some of Britain’s biggest firms are refusing to return their offices to full capacity,” he said. “Companies in the financial sector, including Barclays and Deloitte, will continue to let up to 60 per cent of their staff work from home.”

He said just a tenth of the 6,000 Goldman Sachs employees had returned to the office.

“The City of London, the nation’s economic powerhouse, may not revert to normal until the New Year, at the earliest. And, maybe, never,” he said. “It’s the same story in the business districts of cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds. Our city centres resemble ghost towns.”

A survey of 1250 senior managers revealed they were happy for staff to work from home for the foreseeable future, he said.

“That will sound the death knell for thousands of shops, cafes, sandwich bars and pubs, who rely on office staff for custom.,” he pointed out.

He said the Government should lead by example and insist civil servants return to work on August 1.

“Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to extend furlough until October was a serious misjudgment,” he added. “While the Government is picking up the lion’s share of the wage bill, private employers have little incentive to bring their staff back to work.

“The looming prospect of catastrophic economic collapse far outweighs the dangers of a new spike in coronavirus. Unless Boris fires up the Quattro and gets Britain back to work sharpish, at warp factor nine, we are all going to hell in a handcart.

The Guardian

Katy Balls said the announcement that masks will become compulsory in shops in England - following in Scotland’s footsteps - illustrated how Boris Johnson’s outlook had shifted.

“The freedom-loving prime minister, who once railed against booster seats and the nanny state, is now launching an anti-obesity drive and a law on face coverings,” she said. “It’s a journey that has not gone down well with everyone in his party.

“There are unionist Tories who view the move as a win for Nicola Sturgeon,” she said. “It’s not so much the pros or cons of a mask that bothers them – it’s the fact this is one of only a handful of times the UK government has followed Holyrood.”

She said the move indirectly implied that the First Minister was a more competent leader.

“This policy is aimed at changing behaviour, so the test will be whether more people go out to work and spend in the weeks and months to come,” she said. “If they do, No 10 won’t lose sleep over a few complaints from Tory MPs. The problem for Johnson is if he takes the heat from his own party – and the policy still fails to have the desired effect on the country.”

The Daily Express

Stephen Pollard has spent the past few months shielding, he said, and believes that wearing a facemask is a ‘simple and immediate mechanism’ for encouraging people to get out and about again.

“When the pandemic was first declared by the World Health Organisation, 70 countries had already either required their citizens to wear masks in enclosed places or strongly recommended it,” he said. “That number has risen to 120.

“The issue is clear. If we do not get the economy moving again, a health disaster will turn into an economic cataclysm. To avoid that, we need people out and about.”

He said people wouldn’t leave their homes until they felt safe and so masks need to become the new norm.

“I am sure that I speak for fellow shielders when I say how desperate I am to be able to eventually do something as basic as going to the corner shop again,” he added. “But as things stand, I would be worried to do so.”

He said the Government had contributed to the confusion over masks.

“It took far too long for the Prime Minister to be seen in one – and too many ministers do not wear them,” he said. “Until there is a vaccine or better treatment, we need to reach a stage where wearing a mask is as normal as wearing a seat belt or not drinking and driving.”