Boris Johnson is understood to be keen to relax the two-metre social distancing rule in order to accelerate the reopening of the economy. The move would provide a great boost to the hospitality industry, as it would allow for more customers to be served in commercial premises. Ministers will discuss reducing the two-metre rule in cabinet today, but the Government’s leading scientists are believed to be against any changes to the existing guidance.
More than half of the Cabinet back cutting the two-metre rule, according to the Financial Times.
Six ministers, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, are understood to be leading the calls to change the measures.
The group have been dubbed the “save summer six” – who are keen to help save seasonal industries and kickstart the revival of the economy.
Cabinet will discuss potentially reducing social distancing requirements to 1.5, or even one metre.
As Cabinet revolts, should 2m social distancing rule be reduced?
Current guidance tells people to stay two-metres apart from others
Such a move would help pub and restaurant owners, as many have said reopening under the current two-metre guidance would reduce capacity to such an extent their businesses would be not viable.
Claire Alexander of Yubby Inns in the Cotswold’s, suggested her pubs would struggle to break even if the two-metre rule is left in place.
She told the Morning Advertiser: “We can’t be expected to operate at 50 percent – which is what this would mean – while opening up nearly 100 percent of our overheads.
“We need a minimum of 75 percent occupancy in our dining rooms, bars and beer gardens or it’s not viable.”
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) claims halving the current rule would increase the number of pubs that could reopen in July by 120 percent.
Simon Emeny, chief executive of Fuller’s, a pub chain, agreed and said: “We need pubs to prepare for reopening completely on July 4 with 1m.”
Reducing the social distancing restrictions would be in line with guidance by the World Health Organisation, who as they recommend keeping just a metre apart, rather than two.
But the Government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) appear reluctant to sign off on the change.
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Reducing the two-metre rule would help pubs reopen
One government figure told the Financial Times: “The scientists have been quite firm on this.
“At the moment Sage is definitely not inclined to reduce the guidance.”
Countries have varied in their stance on social distancing, with Spain and Canada imposing the same two-metre guidance as the UK, but other nations have taken a more liberal approach.
France, China and Denmark have just a one-metre rule in place, while Australia, Germany and Italy require that people stay 1.5metres apart.
UK coronavirus map live
A senior minister told the newspaper: “I would suggest that the majority of cabinet is definitely more inclined not to have an automatic two-metre rule.
“If other countries can do one metre or 1.5 metres why can’t we? What’s so special about the UK?”
Two other Government figures agreed the majority of the Cabinet are in favour of changing the guidance.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus press briefing on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We keep the two-metre rule under review all the time and Sage have been doing some work on this recently.”
Defending the measure, he added: “The science is clear that the closer you are, the more likely you are to pass on the virus, that’s especially clear when you’re face-to-face.”