Chancellor hints two-meter social distancing rule could be relaxed by PM

20 June 2020, 17:04

Easing the lockdown measure could help pubs
Easing the lockdown measure could help pubs. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

England's two-metre social distancing rule looks set to be relaxed following a hint from Chancellor Rishi Sunak that the Boris Johnson's review "will make an enormous difference" to businesses.

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.

Now the PM is expected to announce next week just how cafes, restaurants, hotels and pubs will be able to reopen in England.

The measure is thought to be planned to come into place from July 4 in a move which could help restart the flagging economy.

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.

The result of the PM's review is expected this week but the Chancellor strongly signalled it will allow the Government to ease the measure in England.

"The outcome of that review will be announced this week. Obviously that's something that will make an enormous difference I think to many businesses who are keen to see a change," he told reporters during a visit to shops in North Yorkshire.

"Obviously we need to go through that review but I'm very understanding of the calls for action on that, particularly for our hospitality industry, for our pubs, for our restaurants, (they) are keen to see if there's some change that can be made there."

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."

With the coroanvirus alert level having been reduced from four to three on Friday, plans to allow the hospitality sector to reopen were beginning to emerge.

Guidance drawn up by the sector and ministers is understood to encourage pub-goers to order drinks using phone apps instead of going to the bar, while current legislation was said to include the powers for patrols.

The Times said it had been leaked the guidance and reported:

- Limits on the number of punters allowed into pubs, where tables would be spaced out and glasses would be collected from tables, while bar tops and door handles would be cleaned at least hourly.

- Restaurants would be required to place strict limits on the number of diners and would be encouraged to stagger reservations.

- Hotel room service would see staff leave trays outside guests' doors and if they fall ill the customer would be asked to self-isolate in their room, which would be cordoned off for 72 hours after their recovery.

- Gyms and swimming pools would require receptionists use clickers to count numbers going in and booking systems would be put in place to prevent overcrowding.

One expert informing the Government's response to the pandemic as part of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) said he had revised his opposition to reducing the two-metre rule now transmission is low.

The University of Liverpool's Professor Calum Semple told reporters: "I'm still saying two metres is safer than one but in my opinion it is now a reasonable political decision to relax these rules."

He said he could "envisage going down to one metre with various caveats and other precautions" in order to reopen society.

The downgrading of the alert level by the UK's chief medical officers, including Professor Chris Whitty, means transmission of coronavirus is no longer considered to be "high or rising exponentially".

Localised outbreaks of Covid-19 are still "likely" to occur, the advisers warned, and the virus remains in general circulation.

Government scientific advisers have said they would be comfortable with a reduced distance if risk-mitigating measures were taken, such as people sitting side by side and wearing face coverings.