OFFICES could shut within two weeks if the rule of six fails to stop infection rates rising, ministers have been warned.
Senior Government sources said it would take two weeks to assess whether restricting gatherings had brought down Covid infections – and if not, further restrictions could be needed.
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It follows a nationwide backlog of 240,000 swabs which has left coronavirus test centres swamped by desperate Brits trying to get checked.
Centres in Southend, Bury, Bedford, Oldham, London, and Southampton were flooded by people eager to get swabbed on Wednesday – as cases in Britian rose by nearly 4,000.
And thousands of Brits with coronavirus symptoms could be refused tests under new plans to ration swabs.
Business leaders told The Telegraph that the testing crisis will mean employers have no option but to send more workers home.
And at the same time retailers warned that pubs, cafes and restaurants which depend on office workers for trade will go bust if people fail to return to their desks.
Matthew Fell, the UK chief policy director of the CBI, said: "If we are to successfully encourage more people into their workplace safely, then the test and trace system will be a key component.
"Reports of people being unable to access tests in their area or waiting too long to get the results will be deeply frustrating for individuals and businesses alike.
“No one doubts how much effort is going in to get it right. The prize is having a faster turnaround in getting results which will let people know where they stand and whether they need to self-isolate or can return to work quickly."
Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "A truly comprehensive test and trace programme is essential if the UK is to manage the virus without further lockdowns, which will cripple businesses.
"Continuing delays and a shortage of tests saps business, staff and consumer confidence at a fragile moment for the economy."
The number of people returning to the workplace has been rising since schools reopened at the start of the month – but the numbers are likely to drop again if infection rates remain high.
Schools are also said to be drawing up plans to go part-time, with headteachers warning they may need to use rota systems to rotate the number of pupils in school if the testing chaos continues.
Ministers are poised to announce further localised measures to help halt the spread of the bug, with pub curfews and a ban on households mixing across areas of the north-east from Friday.
Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, South Tyneside and County Durham are set to go back into lockdown after cases in the regions surged.
Meanwhile in South Wales, pubs, bars and restaurants in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area have to close at 11pm from Friday.
Similar measures are being taken in Liverpool, where pubs and restaurants could become takeaways after a surge in cases in the city.
It comes as Boris Johnson warned only tough love will flatten a second camel-like hump on Britain’s coronavirus graph.
The Prime Minister said further curfew measures, such as shutting pubs early, will be needed if his “rule of six” is not obeyed.
The PM told The Sun: “All this is to say that: Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas.
“But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now.
"So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump."
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