THE Google ghost town, ditching overseas travel and an online sales tax to combat the effect Covid-19 has hastened on the high street were the topics debated by columnists and contributors in the newspapers.

The Daily Mail

Alex Brummer highlighted the £1bn state-of-the-art gleaming glass building in King’s Cross destined to become Google’s London HQ, home to thousands of workers.

Now that the internet search giant has announced workers can work from home until next summer, some wonder whether the ‘all singing, all dancing’ HQ will ever be occupied, he said.

“Meanwhile, in the streets nearby it’s like a ghost town. Buses are empty. Normally bustling shops are barely ­functioning,” he said. “And sandwich bars that only months ago were doing a roaring trade aren’t even operating.”

He said the ‘snail’s pace’ at which workers are returning to offices is devastating the chance of economic recovery and threatening jobs.

“Boris Johnson has been clear that he wants to see the nation’s towns and cities buzzing again — yet he hasn’t even managed to get Whitehall civil servants back to their posts,” he pointed out. “It’s a different world in Hong Kong and Tokyo where most of the workforce are back at their desks drumming up business. “

He said US research showed in the early weeks of home-working, productivity improved — but over time employees have become less productive and complacent about keeping their jobs.

“Office workers may be ­revelling in the chance to end the commute, abandon their smart outfits and enjoy their families more by being at home,2 he said. “But the terrifying truth is that it’s a way of life which is destroying towns and cities across Britain — and will wreck any chance of the country returning to prosperity for years to come.”

The Guardian

David Hunter, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Oxford, and Neil Pearce, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that encouraging travel abroad in the middle of a pandemic makes no epidemiological sense.

“With every arriving overseas visitor or returning holidaymaker, the risk of bringing Covid-19 into the country increases,” they said. “Great Britain and the island of Ireland are just that – islands. Other islands, such as New Zealand and Taiwan, have shown that the Covid-19 virus can be eliminated like the first Sars virus.”

They said Ireland and Scotland have demonstrated that the virus ‘can be almost fully suppressed even after a strong first wave’ and asked if we could reach beyond that to elimination.

“We think it is – though it would require major changes to the British government’s current thinking,” they said. “A bold elimination goal would require further strengthening of the test, track and isolate system with clear, transparent and spin-free reporting of its successes and failures. “

We would also need to abandon air bridges, they said, and all foreign travel.

“We all hope one or more vaccines will work and be relatively free of side-effects, but Experience shows we cannot assume such a vaccine will be widely available any time soon,” they said. “[Elimination] is within our grasp. It’s up to our politicians to change course and seize it.”

The Daily Express

Tim Newark called for an online sales tax to try and save the high street.

“Just a two percent levy would raise £2billion and shift the tax burden away from traders struggling to compete with online giants,” he said. “With Amazon announcing it wants to take on supermarkets with free food deliveries, this online tax is now needed more than ever.”

He said the pandemic had accelerated the shift online and was closing shops at an alarming rate.

“A further proposal, under consideration by the Chancellor, is a charge on home deliveries to cover the cost of congestion caused by fleets of vans disgorging parcels to our front doors,” he said. “Soon, Amazon will provide us with everything from books and clothes to TV and food. If that’s not a vision of a retail Big Brother out of 1984, I don’t know what is.”

“Rishi Sunak should seize the opportunity to introduce an online sales tax to ensure these monoliths pay their fair share when we need it more than ever. If it means he can then afford to cut business rates, that could bring life back to our high streets.”