PM to discuss easing two-metre social distancing rule with Cabinet ahead of announcement

22 June 2020, 05:47

The PM is expected to make the announcement on Tuesday
The PM is expected to make the announcement on Tuesday. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Prime Minister is set to discuss loosening the two-metre social distancing rule in England to the reopening of the hospitality sector with his top team and scientific advisers.

Boris Johnson will meet with his Cabinet and his chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty on Monday to discuss what happens next with the coronavirus lockdown.

On Tuesday the PM will set out his plans in front of Parliament as to how pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers to reopen in England from July 4, and a likely loosening of the distance rule to aid the restart to the economy.

The rules have been in place since the Prime Minister put the country into a near-total lockdown which started on March 23, the social-distancing rules saw many businesses required by law to closed.

Mr Johnson has come under pressure from several sides including hospitality sector leaders and his own backbench MPs, they want the PM to reduce the two-metre rule which is placing major restrictions on some businesses.

On Sunday, the PM said the progress made in the fight against coronavirus during three months of lockdown mean "it will be possible to open up more".

"The disease is increasingly under control and I just want people to reflect on that important fact," he added in a Downing Street interview.

Guidance will be published for each sector on how businesses can reduce the spread of Covid-19 when they reopen.

And the public are expected to be warned that the newest relaxation of rules will be the first to be reversed if there are widespread breaches that prompt the virus to spread uncontrollably.

A No 10 spokesman said: "The reason we are able to move forward this week is because the vast majority of people have taken steps to contain the virus.

"The more we open up, the more important it is that everyone follows the social-distancing rules.

"We will not hesitate to put the handbrake on to stop the virus running out of control."

With the two-metre rule placing severe constraints on the hospitality sector, it looks increasingly likely to be reduced as long as other mitigations - such as face coverings - can be used to help prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Labour MP Florence Eshalomi called on the Government to help the hospitality sector adapt to the changed landscape.

Ms Eshalomi said she had a range of popular sites in her Vauxhall electorate including the Royal Festival Hall and the Southbank Centre, adding that "maintaining two-metre social distancing is not viable".

She said: "There are going to be additional costs attached to additional PPE - masks, hand sanitisers - and we're talking about businesses that haven't seen any income coming in for the past three-and-half to four months."

Previously, Emma McClarkin the CEO of the British Beer & Pub Association told LBC's Nick Ferrari the outlook was "bad" for pubs with the risk "extraordinarily real" due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The beer industry boss said pubs would not be able to operate with current social distancing guidelines "at two meters, as it currently is, would be impossible in most of our venues," she told LBC.

When it comes to the number of people employed in the beer and pub sector the industry leader said it contributes £23 billion with almost 1 million staff.

The stark warning the beer industry leader gave was that 15,000 pubs could close.

She said pubs contribute "so much more than just as an economic player" but that they were at the centre of communities, and contribute to the "social values of their communities."

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Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said England is "clearly on track" to further ease the lockdown.

Acknowledging that "a lot of the country does need a haircut", Mr Hancock told Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday that he is "not going to rule out" hairdressers and barbers also being able to reopen on July 4.

He gave perspex screens, masks and altered seating arrangements as examples of measures to mitigate the risk of spreading coronavirus if the two-metre rule is relaxed.

And he floated the idea that punters at pubs and bars could have to sign a guest book with their names and contact details so they could be swiftly traced if they come into contact with an infection.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Labour would support a reduction of the two-metre rule "under certain circumstances", including the strengthening of other protections such as masks.

To aid the economy's recovery, Mr Hancock did not rule out suggestions that Rishi Sunak could slash VAT to encourage spending, telling Ridge: "It's very much a matter for the Chancellor."

The Health Secretary also said a reduction in the distance rule would "undoubtedly help with schools", pointing to Northern Ireland where it will be reduced to one metre.