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Conservative pressure mounts for Boris Johnson to ditch ‘impossible’ two metre coronavirus rule

Tory MPs have warned that pubs and restaurants will struggle to balance the books with the two-metre rule in place.

5 min read

Boris Johnson is under growing Conservative pressure to reduce the two metre social distancing rule in a bid to save the hospitality industry and allow schools to reopen.

Senior Conservatives said it would be “impossible” for sectors of the economy to reopen properly with the current restriction in place and urged Boris Johnson to cut it to one-metre.

And The Telegraph reports that the PM wants to scrap the two-metre rule by September “at the latest” in order to fulfil his pledge to get pupils back into school.

The Prime Minister on Wednesday gave his strongest hint yet that the restrictions could be softened, telling MPs he would keep the measure “under constant review” after repeated calls by the hospitality sector to reduce it.

Pubs and restaurants have warned that they will have to reopen with drastically reduced capacity in order to enforce the social distancing guidance, which is designed to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Johnson told MPs: “As the incidence of the disease comes down, as I think the members of Sage would confirm, the statistical likelihood of being infected no matter how near or far you are from someone who may or may not have coronavirus comes down.”

The Times reports that Chancellor Rishi Sunak told a meeting of Conservative backbenchers on Wednesday that 24 countries had already introduced flexibility in the rule, with the Cabinet minister highlighting warnings that only a quarter of pubs will be able to reopen in line with the current guidance.

One MP present said of the Chancellor: “He understands the need to get Britain back to work.”

Former Tory Cabinet ministers meanwhile told the Daily Mail that they believed cutting the restriction in line with World Health Organisation guidance would help the economy get back on its feet.

“I would combine it with much greater mask-wearing,” Damian Green said.

”If we don’t do this it will be the end for many pubs and restaurants.”

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said: “The number one and single most important priority to unlock the economy is getting the distance down to one metre.

‘The difference between one and two metres is the difference between opening the economy properly and seeing it bump along at the bottom without being able to bounce back. The hospitality sector simply can’t make a living at two metres.

“It’s restrictive at one metre but at least they can come close to making it work. And it’s impossible to run public transport properly at two metres.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, told the Daily Mail: “Opening with a two-metre social distancing rule would see many venues operating at around 30 per cent capacity, which would be completely unviable for almost every business.

“Reducing the distance to one metre would allow businesses to operate at around 70 per cent capacity, which might allow them to at least break even.”

Pressed on the two metre rule on Sky News on Thursday, minister Simon Clarke said: “All we can say to the British people is that nobody in government is complacent about this.

"Nobody in government believes this is anything other than the top most priority, and made sure that we can get the country back up to speed as quickly as we can.”

But he added: “We cannot run faster than the science allows us to.” 


Mr Johnson is said to be “instinctively” in favour of loosening the restriction by the autumn, after the Government was forced to abandon plans to get all primary school pupils back in the classroom before the summer holidays.

He told the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday: “We do fully intend to bring all children back to school in September provided the progress we are making continues.”

Asked whether the two metre rule would be loosened to allow that, he said: “The level of the epidemic, though it is way, way down, is not as low as we would like in order to relax the social distancing measures in schools.

“I think there’s a balance of risk to be struck and I think the issue for me is how far down we can get the incidence of this disease.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser meanwhile said it was “wrong to portray” two metres “as a scientific rule that says it is two metres or nothing“.

“That's not what the advice has been and it's not what the advice is now,” he said.

And he added: “It is not a scientific rule, it is a risk-based assessment on when risk reduces, and the risks are associated with distance.“

The fresh Conservative calls to abandon the two metre restriction came as Tory former Cabinet minister David Davis urged the Government to admit it had made mistakes in the early stages of its response to Covid-19.

“When we started this exercise in January, nobody knew anything,” he said.

“I mean the simple truth is we didn't know how the virus was transmitted, the Chinese were denying it was human-to-human transmission, we didn't know what the doubling rate was, any of the key indicators here, we just didn't know. And I think the public understood that.”

Mr Davis added: “If you have got a problem which nobody has the answer to, pretending that you're going get everything right first time is unwise — because you're going to be proven wrong. ”

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