Boris Johnson slashes social distancing in England and reopens pubs from July 4

23 June 2020, 12:41

By Asher McShane

Boris Johnson has announced that from July 4 social distancing will be reduced to "one metre plus" in England, paving the way for pubs and restaurants to reopen.

The measure is designed to allow businesses to get more customers through their doors.

Mr Johnson detailed how pubs, bars and restaurants can start gradually to re-open from July 4, saying the number of new Covid-19 infections is declining by between two and four per cent each day.

The Prime Minister said that from the 4th of July, hairdressers, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, museums and galleries can reopen.

Gyms, spas, indoor swimming pools, nail salons, soft-play areas, bowling alleys and nightclubs will remain closed.

He also announced that indoor gatherings involving two separate households will be allowed from that date.

Pubs can reopen from July 4, Boris Johnson announced - pictured, a customer enjoys takeaway pints in London
Pubs can reopen from July 4, Boris Johnson announced - pictured, a customer enjoys takeaway pints in London. Picture: PA

During Tuesday's daily coronavirus press briefing, which is to be the last daily briefing, Boris Johnson praised the actions of the public during the lockdown but warned there would be local outbreaks and restrictions may have to be reimposed.

The Prime Minister said: "The Government has asked a huge amount of all of you, and... the people of this country met that challenge with good humour and common sense.

"Of course the fight is far from over. This is a nasty virus still that wants to take advantage of our carelessness.

"I'm afraid there will be local outbreaks. And I must tell you that if the virus were to begin to run out of control, I will not hesitate to put on the handbrake and reverse some of these changes at local or indeed national level as required.

"But we can avoid that if we all continue to stay alert and do our bit to control the virus."

Boris Johnson also said that he wants to see people out and about enjoying themselves again.

"I think it is great to see people out shopping again," he told the No 10 briefing.

"Frankly, I can't wait to go to a pub or a restaurant even if it may not be wholly compatible with the new diet that I'm on.

"I think people need to go out and enjoy themselves and rediscover things they haven't been able to do for a long time.

"I want to see bustle, I want to see activity. But I also want to see everybody being careful, staying alert and following the guidance."

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said there would be an increase of cases if people did not take the mitigation measures seriously.

He told the Downing Street press conference: "If people hear a distorted version of what's being said, that says 'this is all fine now, it's gone away' and start behaving in ways that they normally would have before this virus happened, yes, we will get an uptick for sure.

"It is absolutely critical people stick to the guidance that has been given, it's a changed guidance for there are still very significant restrictions socially and there are very significant restrictions on business of different sorts."

On the changes to the two-metre rule, Prof Whitty said it was a "balance of risk".

"I think that this is a reasonable balance of risk," he said, but it was "absolutely not risk free".

"We may at some point say that particular bit of the decisions that were taken is too much of a risk with the benefit of hindsight and we have to go back on it."

Addressing the Commons today, Mr Johnson said: "This pandemic has inflicted permanent scars and we mourn everyone we have lost.

"We do not believe there is currently a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS.

"We no longer face a virus spreading exponentially although it remains in general circulation. All parts of the UK are now travelling in the same direction.

"We can now go further and safely ease the lockdown in England. At every stage caution will remain our watchword.

"We can change the 2m social distancing rule from the 4th of July."

He said people should be advised to keep a social distance of "one metre plus... while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission."

But he said they are not recommending the meeting of multiple households indoors to keep the risk of transmission low.

"The virus has not gone away," he added. "As we have seen in other countries, there will be flare-ups, and we will not hesitate to apply the restrictions, even at national level, if required."

In response to the changes, Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The opening of venues across London from early July will be welcome for those thousands of businesses in hospitality and culture who have seen their income dry up completely during this crisis. And of course, Londoners will once again be able to enjoy visiting the wonderful pubs, cafés and museums that make our city the best in the world.

“As the lockdown eases further, it is even more vital that we all act to protect the people around us. The experience of going out will still be very different from what it was before.

“The Government needs to act urgently to ensure the necessary legislation and support is in place to allow venues to operate safely under the new one metre-plus rule, providing comprehensive guidance on how social distancing will be maintained.

“It is also important that the Government change the guidance to make the wearing of face coverings mandatory where social distancing may be impossible, including in shops and hairdressers.

“I continue to be concerned about the ongoing problems with the Government’s test and trace system, including the failure to get the contact-tracing app up and running. It is vital that we now see rapid improvements in the test and trace system as people come into closer contact.

“If the government re-opens the economy in a way that causes a tragic second wave of the virus, it will cause huge social and economic damage, with a further lockdown having catastrophic consequences for workers and businesses.”

Among the measures announced today:

- Pubs and restaurants will be limited to table service.

- People will be able to stay overnight in hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites.

- Most leisure facilities and tourist attractions can reopen.

- Cinemas, museums and galleries will be allowed to admit visitors.

- People will be able to go to hairdressers to trim their lockdown locks.

But the Independent SAGE group of scientists has warned that they still believe it is too early to reduce the distance from 2m to 1m.

Boris Johnson confirmed the news in the commons today
Boris Johnson confirmed the news in the commons today. Picture: PA

In a warning issued yesterday, the group, led by former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King, said: "Until there is evidence that infections have dropped to much fewer than 1,000 cases a day, it says it is not safe in indoor spaces particularly in restaurants, bars, or workplaces where it notes, people tend to lean toward each other when they speak."

"The government is ignoring the advice from its own SAGE committee and that it is now ‘crucial’ that the government publishes the underlying evidence behind the proposed change of rules as the public and businesses will now need to make their own risk assessment.

"Changing the rule from 2 metres to 1 metre would see BME communities and low-paid workers put at most risk," the report adds.

Further guidance will be issued fo the arts and cultural sector on how they can welcome back visitors under the latest stage of the Government's road map for lifting the lockdown.

It could mean cinemas and museums introducing one-way systems, spaced queuing, increased ventilation, and pre-booked tickets to ensure people can return safely.

A No 10 source said: "We are only able to move forward this week because the vast majority of people have taken steps to control the virus.

"But the more we open up, the more important it is that everyone follows the social distancing guidelines. We will not hesitate to reverse these steps if it is necessary to stop the virus running out of control."

Details of the review were being finalised at meeting on Monday evening attended by the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty.

Mr Johnson will then brief the Cabinet on the plan for England on Tuesday morning before setting out the details in Parliament.

Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government was able to act now because the numbers of new coronavirus cases, admissions to hospital, and deaths from the diseases were all continuing to fall.

He told the daily No 10 briefing that just one-in-1,700 people were now infected with the virus, compared to one-in-400 a month ago.

"All these figures are coming down and pointing in the right direction. It shows that while there is still much to do, we are clearly making progress," he said.

However, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that even as the rules were eased people still needed to follow social distancing, including regular hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene.

"There is a critical point here that says just because life is feeling a bit more back to normal don't suddenly jump to where you were this time last year. We need to learn to go forward with restrictions in our lives," she said.