Prime Minister hints pubs could reopen before July as social-distancing reviewed

28 May 2020, 07:14

The PM will review the coronavirus lockdown on Thursday
The PM will review the coronavirus lockdown on Thursday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister has hinted pubs and restaurants may be able to open before July by reviewing the two-meter coronavirus social-distancing rules.

Boris Johnson was addressing a committee of senior MPs on Wednesday when he said a solution to help the hospitality sector could be possible.

Mr Johnson told MPs he hoped the two-metre coronavirus social distancing rule could soon be reduced to enable businesses such as pubs and restaurants to reopen faster.

On Thursday morning Health Secretary Matt Hancock told LBC that being one metre away from someone for one minute has the same risk of transmission as being two metres away from someone for fifteen minutes.

When asked about whether the two-metre social distancing rule will be amended, Mr Hancock told LBC: "The scientists are going to look at it.

"What doesn't change is the science, which is that if you are closer then you are more likely to transmit.

"The scientists tell me that they reckon at one metre, for one minute, that has the same risk of transmission as being at two minutes for 15 minutes.

"So, it does make a big difference to transmission being close to someone.

"But the scientists are going to look at it again and put forward some advice."

Sixty-six days ago the PM introduced the coronavirus lockdown rules, putting restrictions on what business could open and when people were allowed to leave their homes.

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The news comes as a hospitality industry body warned two-thirds of pub jobs could be lost unless social distancing restrictions are reduced to one metre.

Appearing at the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Boris Johnson told MPs that members of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) had been told to review the guidance.

Mr Johnson said: "My own hope is that as we make progress in getting the virus down, in reducing the incidence, that we will be able to reduce that distance, which I think will be particularly valuable in transport and clearly the hospitality sector."

He said that advice from Sage remains that there is "a very considerable reduction in risk at two metres".

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In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) and UKHospitality (UKH) called for furlough salary for pub and hospitality staff to be maintained at 80% until October.

That would allow the sector, which is two months behind reopening compared to the rest of the economy, to fully get back up and running, they said.

The trade bodies warned that thousands of jobs could be lost unless pubs can safely re-open and be operationally and commercially viable businesses by July.

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Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said the coronavirus job retention furlough scheme had been a lifeline to pubs and pub jobs.

But she warned: "However, unless social distancing restrictions are reduced to the WHO's (World Health Organisation) suggested one metre, two thirds of pub jobs could be lost.

"It is vital that the Government allows pubs to re-open under those safe conditions in July, so that they can operate at a sustainable level and become pillars of the community once more.

"Under two metre social distancing rules, pubs will have less space to operate with so will need less staff."