Boris Johnson says ‘watch this space’ on lowering two-metre social distancing as he tells public to start being ‘less apprehensive’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson uses a sink in the playground to wash his hands during a visit to Bovingdon Primary School. (PA)
Boris Johnson has urged people to “watch this space” on the Government’s two-metre social distancing guidance as he called on the public to be “less apprehensive” about coronavirus.
The Prime Minister promised “further changes” to the rule “as the science allows”, amid calls from Conservative MPs and some in the hospitality and retail sector to lower the restriction to one-metre.
And, speaking as the UK officially lowered its Covid-19 alert level, Mr Johnson said the country was making “real progress” in its fight against the virus.
Education unions this weekend warned that schools will likely be unable to reopen in September if the two-metre social distancing rule remains in place, with the Government on Friday unveiling a £1bn package to help children catch up on missed learning as many schools stay shut.
Pub and restaurant chains have meanwhile said they will be unable to turn a profit if the two-metre rule is not jettisoned before July 4, the next date for changes earmarked in the Government’s ‘roadmap’ for leaving lockdown.
Pressed on whether the distance could be lowered to allow schools to reopen more widely, the Prime Minister told reporters on Friday: “Watch this space. Watch this space.“
And he added: “We’ve got to start thinking of a world where we are less apprehensive about this disease.
“Yes, it’s been a horrible shock for the country and for the world, and I think the British people have worked incredibly hard to drive it down.
“But we’re starting to make some real progress with test and trace, with treatments for the disease. And, I hope as we go forward into the autumn people will be much, much more confident.”
The Prime Minister said: “When we go forward to July the 4th, which is the next big stage in the plan, we hope that there will be more guidance out very, very shortly that will help people, help businesses, help hospitality to prepare for that and how to implement social distancing in a safe way while also enabling people to go back to shops, to hospitality, to restaurants, and everything else.”
PANDEMIC 'NOT OVER'
Mr Johnson was speaking as the UK’s four chief medical officers recommended that the official coronavirus alert level should finally move down from stage four to three.
The Prime Minister introduced the five-step system, similar to the one used to establish the terrorist threat, and created the new the Joint Biosecurity Centre to administer it in May. progress
The highest figure - five - is applicable when health services are at risk of being overwhelmed, with the lowest meaning Covid-19 is no longer present in the country.
After the level has stayed at four since the system was introduced, the top medics on Friday recommended it now move down a notch due to the “steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations”.
The four CMO’s added: “It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur.
“We have made progress against the virus thanks to the efforts of the public and we need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure this progress continues.”
Mr Johnson said the UK was now “moving now from a world I think in which we have to impose a huge one-size-fits-all national lockdown programme to one in which we’re able to do more localised responses.”
And he insisted schools could “absolutely” reopen again in September after the Government shelved plans to get primary school kids back in the classroom before the summer holidays.
“Let me be very clear. I want a world where as far as possible, provided we can make the classrooms safe, and I think we can, I want every child, every pupil, every student, back in September,” the PM added.
“And I’m sure we can get it down. And, there are parts of our European friends and some other countries haven’t got any pupils back at all over the summer, they’re waiting until September. We’ve got quite a few back, but we want them all back in September.”
Government scientists have said the two-metre rule plays an important part in reducing the spread of Covid-19, although chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance this week made clear it was not “some sort of absolute cut-off that never changes".
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum distance of one metre, a recommendation that is currently being followed by countries including France, China, Denmark and Singapore.