Two-metre rule to be 'urgently' reviewed, says Chancellor Rishi Sunak

14 June 2020, 10:56

Signage related to social distancing and Covid-19 on display in London
Signage related to social distancing and Covid-19 on display in London. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson has ordered an "urgent" review of the two-metre social distancing rule, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed.

The Cabinet minister said the review will look at the issue "in the round" and will involve both economists and the government's scientific advisers as ministers consider whether it is possible to ease the measures.

Easing the restriction is considered vital if businesses such as restaurants and pubs are to be able to re-open sustainably.

The Mail on Sunday reported the review would effectively take control of social-distancing out of the hands of the government's scientific advisers, who have been deeply reluctant to relax guidelines.

Speaking on Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Mr Sunak said: "The Prime Minister has put in place a comprehensive review of the two-metre rule.

"That review will involve the scientists, the economists and others so that we can look at it in the round.

"You are right to highlight the impact it has on business - it is the difference between maybe three-quarters and a third of pubs opening, for example, so it is important we look at it.

"Obviously many other countries around the world use a different rule. We have seen a couple of countries recently - Norway and Denmark - have moved from two metres to something less.

"It is important that we look at it comprehensively, in the round, and that is what we will do urgently."

He added: "I can very much understand the positive impact it will have on businesses' ability to open and thereby maintain the jobs that they have, and make sure all the people that work for them can come back to those jobs.

"That's really important to me."

However, he warned it must be "safe to do so" as Covid-19 is still continuing to spread through the UK.

The move comes as thousands of non-essential shops in England are set to re-open on Monday for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in March.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma reassured the public that safety measures had been put in place to ensure their safety.

Writing in the Sunday Express, he said: "We need to get Britain's economy firing again, while at the same time making sure we keep people safe and avoid a second peak of the disease."

Mr Sunak echoed his colleague's words, telling the Sun on Sunday: "I am very conscious that there will be anxiety. For some time, many people have not been inside a shop and, in a way, we all have to relearn the behaviours we took for granted.

"We've been living with anxiety now for 12 weeks but the good news is that we've made enormous progress.

"Bit by bit, that confidence will come back and the anxiety will reduce. But it's not going to happen overnight."

There have been warnings that any maintaining of the two-metre rule, along with a closing of the furlough scheme, could be "horrendous" for the hospitality sector.

Richard Caring, chairman of Caprice Holdings which runs the Ivy, accused the government of "killing the country" in the Mail on Sunday.

He said: "There are estimates saying we could have up to five million unemployed. It's not going to be five million - it's going to be more. I don't think we've seen anything yet.

"The government is actually killing the country right now and the hospitality industry is in the front line of the disaster."

Meanwhile, No 10 will push to get more primary school children back into classrooms ahead of the summer break.

With most children in England set to remain at home until September, ministers have been accused of putting retail before pupils' education.

A Downing Street source said Mr Johnson was "acutely aware" of the impact the extended closure was having on pupils and was working with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson on a major "catch-up" plan.

Currently primary schools in England - which closed following the coronavirus lockdown in March - are opening to pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

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