The public in England will once again be asked to work from home if they can, Michael Gove said on Tuesday, outlining a “reluctant” shift in government advice to combat the spread of coronavirus that he said could help “avert the need for more serious action in the future”.

In broadcast interviews on Tuesday morning, Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, described the latest change in restrictions as a “shift in emphasis” but unavoidable. He told Sky News: “The rate of infection is increasing, the number of people going to hospital is increasing, and therefore we need to act.”

He added: “It’s important to stress that there are many roles which can’t be performed from home … where we recognise that that’s simply impossible. We need to balance, obviously, the need to ensure that people can continue to work and, critically, continue to go to school against taking steps to try to reduce the virus.”

Gove told BBC Breakfast it was not a case of “revisiting the days at the beginning of our response to this virus” as he said that now “workplaces are safer”, adding: “But one of the risks that we have to face is that social mixing overall contributes to the spread of the virus.

“So as much as we can restrain that as possible at this stage, the better for all of us and for public health.”

Gove set out the latest changes to the government’s coronavirus policy after it emerged on Monday night that pubs, bars and restaurants in England will have to shut by 10pm from Thursday as part of measures to halt an “exponential” rise in coronavirus cases.

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He was unable to say how long the new coronavirus measures are expected to last. But when pressed on whether it would be months or weeks, he said: “It is the case, as [chief scientific and medical officers] Professor Vallance and Chris Whitty pointed out yesterday, that we’re going to have a challenging next six months.”

He added that plans to bring 80% of civil servants back to work by the end of the month had now been put on hold, saying: “We were staging a process whereby people would come back into work in Whitehall and elsewhere, but I’ve been in discussion with the permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office and one of the things we recognise is that in the circumstances if we can get people to work from home we will.”

Speaking later on the Today programme, Gove said that the so-called “rule of six” was staying, as it was “simple, straightforward and well-understood”. Pressed about whether people could drink in the pub in a group of six until 10pm and then continue to drink at someone’s house, he said that they could.

Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin told the Today programme that the news about pubs and restaurants would be a “terrible blow” to the hospitality sector.

But he added of the latest coronavirus data: “It’s a very strong nudge to people that we are in a very serious situation.

“What would be the worst case is if we have to have another major lockdown. That would be terrible for the economy. And, so anything that can avoid that risk, or mitigate that risk, seems to be justified.”

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