Review into two-metre social distancing rule underway
Downing Street has said that a review into the existing two-metre social distancing guidelines is underway and is set to be completed “in the coming weeks”, but it is unclear whether its findings will be published by July 4 when pubs and restaurants are set to reopen in England.
Many calls have come from the hospitality industry to reduce the social distancing rule to one metre, which have been echoed by some Conservative MPs.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has indicated that as the number of coronavirus cases continues to drop, that there will be some “margin for manoeuvre” with the two-metre rule.
Meanwhile, Johnson’s spokesperson confirmed that the government’s review will explore the transmission of coronavirus in different environments and compare figures with other countries, considering evidence from medical experts, economists and advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has said that the two-metre rule being changed would allow some businesses to increase potential revenues from 30 per cent of the norm to around 60-75 per cent, since capacity would not need to be so significantly reduced upon reopening to adhere to the existing rules.
Nicholls told the BBC: "We very much welcome the government's decision to conduct a review on this because it is a matter of survival or business failure as far as hospitality is concerned."
Health minister Edward Argar said that the government needed to strike a balance between helping the economy recover and not putting the health of the public at risk, adding that the government would look to publish the review as swiftly as possible to help businesses prepare, without setting a concrete deadline.
As of Monday evening, the number of people who had died in the UK having tested positive for coronavirus had increased by 38 to a total of 41,739. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed UK cases rose by 1,056 to reach 296,857.
Non-essential shops in England were allowed to reopen for the first time since the lockdown came into force on March 23, and they have been forced to adhere to the two-metre social distancing rule by having strict safety protocols in place.
World Health Organization advice stipulates that people should remain one metre apart, a rule which also exists in countries such as France and Denmark. The government’s scientific advisers believe, however, that being within a one-metre distance of another individual increases the risk of infection tenfold compared to a two-metre distance.
However, relaxing the rule may not only help hospitality businesses allow for extra capacity, but it may also enable more children to return to school at one time and boost the education sector.
The two-metre rule has remained in place throughout the four constituent countries of the UK.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that no timescale for reducing the social distancing rule will be set in her country thus far, but Holyrood would continue to assess the “ongoing evidence”.
Sturgeon said: "If you reduce the distance then there are other things you have to consider like face coverings - and also the amount of time it is then safe for people to be in that kind of proximity."
No date has yet been set for the reopening of the hospitality sector in Scotland and Wales, while businesses in Northern Ireland have been set a date of July 3.