PM urges public to 'shop with confidence' ahead of stores reopening today

14 June 2020, 18:21

Boris Johnson has called for an urgent review ahead of shops reopening on Monday
Boris Johnson has called for an urgent review ahead of shops reopening on Monday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister has said there is "more margin for manoeuvre" in reducing the two-metre social-distancing rule because the number of Covid-19 cases is falling.

Boris Johnson has ordered a comprehensive review of the distance people are advised to stay apart in England, the PM said "probably" fewer than one in 1,000 people now had coronavirus, meaning the chances of coming in contact with someone who was infected were increasingly remote.

On Sunday the UK recorded its lowest death toll since the lockdown began on March 23, with 36 deaths announced by the Department of Health and Social Care.

As we reported earlier, the Chancellor revealed the Prime Minister's plans to order an urgent review of the social-distancing regulations.

Rishi Sunak said any review would take in advice from the Government's scientific and medical advisers, as well as economists.

But he said decisions would be made by Ministers, not scientists, "Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance (the Government's chief scientific adviser) throughout all of this have provided advice to ministers," he said.

The move comes ahead of non-essential shops in England preparing to reopen to customers with a plethora of businesses starting to operate again on Monday.

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Speaking during a visit to the Westfield shopping centre in east London to highlight the re-openings, Mr Johnson said people should be able to "shop with confidence" as they returned to the high street.

With official figures showing the economy shrank by a fifth in April, ministers are desperate to get economic activity going again amid warnings of further large scale job losses to come.

Ministers are under intense pressure from Conservative MPs who see the easing of the two-metre rule as crucial to the next phase of the reopening, including pubs and restaurants, slated for early July.

Mr Johnson said they were constantly looking at the evidence to see when it would be safe to do so.

"As we get the numbers down, so it becomes one in a thousand, one in 1600, maybe fewer, your chances of being, two metres, one metre or even a foot away from somebody who has the virus are obviously going down statistically, so you start to build some more margin for manoeuvre and we'll be looking at that," he said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said 41,698 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday, up by 36 from 41,662 the day before.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: "Yesterday, across the UK, only 36 deaths were recorded with coronavirus - the lowest since March 21. We are winning the battle against this horrible disease."

During a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Sunak, who is among the ministers pressing for a relaxation of the two-metre rule, said countries such as Denmark and Norway had already adopted shorter measures.

He said that moving to a lesser distance could be the difference to between "maybe three-quarters and a third" of pubs being able to re-open sustainably next month.

Scientists advising the Government, including chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty, have previously signalled their reluctance to see any easing while the Covid-19 epidemic continues.

"Ultimately it is for ministers. We are the people who are elected to make decisions in this country. People should hold us responsible and accountable for making those decisions."

Mr Johnson said he did not know whether to expect "a flood or a trickle" when the shops reopened but that he hoped people would return in "sensible" numbers.

"I am very optimistic about the opening up that is going to happen tomorrow," he said.

"I think people should shop and shop with confidence, but they should of course observe the rules on social distancing and do it as safely as possible."

The move comes amid fears of a new wave of job losses as the Government starts to wind down the furlough scheme which has seen the state pay the wages of more than eight million workers.

Mr Sunak acknowledged further redundancies were inevitable and said that it underlined the importance of getting the economy going again.

"Primarily we need to reopen our economy safely and slowly.

"That is the most important thing to try and safeguard as many of those jobs as possible," he told The Andrew Marr Show.

"There is going to be hardship ahead.

"People are going to lose their jobs."