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Coronavirus risk up to ‘30 times higher’ if two-metre rule dropped, Government’s chief scientist warns

Sir Patrick Vallance is the Chief Scientific Adviser to the government

3 min read

The Government’s chief scientific adviser has warned that coronavirus transmission is significantly higher at one metre apart, a day after a Cabinet minister suggested the current two-metre rule could be relaxed.

Speaking to the Health Select Committee, Sir Patrick Vallance said that spending six seconds stood one metre away from a person carries the same risk as minute spent two metres apart.

He said: “For most of us, the situation in outdoor environments is that the risk is really low and the two-metre distancing is based on a probability. 

“The evidence is, as far as you can get very firm evidence on this, is essentially a minute at two metres contact is about the same as six seconds at one metre.

“That gives you an idea of why the two-metre rule becomes important.”

He added: “The risk at one metre is about 10 to 30 times higher than the risk at two metres, so social distancing is an important part of this.”

The comments come after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace suggested that the current two-metre social distancing rule could be relaxed to allow Brits to go back to work.

Speaking to Sky News, the Cabinet minister suggested protective equipment could be used instead to prevent the spread of the virus in public spaces.

He said: “The two-metre rule reduces the possibility of infection by a certain amount of time.

"If you halve that it still keeps people away from being infected but for a lesser time. The probability of being infected is much less."

But Number 10 later insisted there had been "no change to the two-metre rule".

The Prime Minister's spokesperson said: "We continue to advise that people should remain two metres apart from each other, that's not changed.”

In his evidence to the Health Committee, Sir Patrick also defended the work of Sage - the government's scientific advisory group - insisting that it had no control over government decisions.

“My job, in this case, is to make sure ministers get the advice that they need in order to make decisions," he said.

"And it’s important to recognise that decisions are made on all sorts of grounds of which science is a key input, but it’s not the decision-maker. 

“Sage does not make decisions, Sage is an advisory body.”

And Sir Patrick said ministers themselves were "informed by science, they are not led by science".

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries meanwhile acknowledged that the UK’s move away from mass coronavirus testing in March had partly been driven by limited resources.

She told the committee "if we had unlimited capacity we would have done differently".


The virtual Commons grilling came as the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed care home deaths linked to coronavirus increased by more than 2,500 in the space of a week.

According to their data there were 2,794 fatalities registered in the week ending 24 April, up from 2,050 during the previous seven days, and increase of 36%. 

Meanwhile the ONS said the number of registered deaths involving Covid-19 occurring in hospitals fell from 6,107 in the week ending 17 April to 4,841 in the week ending 24 April - a decrease of 21%.

And overall deaths from all causes registered in England and Wales fell for the first time since March 20, in further signs the UK may have passed the peak of the crisis.

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