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Coronavirus: 2m distancing rule could be relaxed this week, ministers suggest

A sign reminds people of social distancing rules (Credit: PA)

4 min read

The two-metre social distancing rule could be relaxed this week following a review of safety implications, ministers have hinted.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that government would be able to announce further details this week on measures that could be taken as early as the start of next month.

"I think that we’re about to see another step in the plan and this week we will announce further details of the measures that we can take to relieve some of the national lockdown measures at the start of July," he said.

"I very much hope that we can [ease the 2m rule] and that review will come to bear this week and we’ll be setting out further details this week."

The Cabinet minister added: “There are all sorts of mitigations you can put in place to be physically closer than two metres but not have the transmission of the virus or the risk of the transmission that you would otherwise have."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden have also said people can expect to hear whether there is any room for adjustment in the current social distancing guidance "in the coming days".

Mr Sunak told the BBC on a visit to North Yorkshire that although the review was yet to be completed, it was "something that will make an enormous difference, I think, to many businesses who are keen to see a change".

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Labour would back halving the distance to one metre in "certain circumstances" and if other safety measures were put in place. 

He added: "We also need to see a greater use of facemasks, I would have thought.  Certain workers who are very public facing in their day-to-day action, perhaps greater use of face shielding, let’s get testing and tracing up and running.

"But there is a broader point; infection rates are coming down, they do appear to be plateauing, hospital admissions are coming, down death rates, thankfully, are coming down.

"But this still remains a deadly virus.  We cannot be complacent.  If we are going to relax some measures, we need to ensure other mitigation measures are in place."

The review follows a plea from the hospitality industry, with many pubs and restaurants claiming they will be unable to operate a viable business model unless the two-metre rule is relaxed. 

The Chancellor said he was "very understanding of the calls for action on that, particularly for our hospitality industry, for our pubs, for our restaurants".

Meanwhile, Mr Dowden told the BBC's Any Questions programme the review would be “concluding shortly, within the coming days.”

Pressed on whether he meant there would be an update next week, the Cabinet minister said: "You’ll have to wait and see what happens, we’ve said it's coming shortly.”

On Saturday, the Times revealed detailed plans on how pubs and restaurants, which are due to reopen on July 4, could operate under the restrictions.

Drinkers could be asked to order via an app rather than going to the bar, with staff carrying out social distancing patrols and tables being set only when customers sit down to eat.

Boris Johnson ordered a review of distancing measures last week, telling people to "watch this space" for further announcements.

The Prime Minister promised changes as far “as the science allows”, amid calls from Conservative MPs to lower the restriction to one metre.

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.

 “We’ve got to start thinking of a world where we are less apprehensive about this disease," he said.
“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.”

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