The Prime Minister has asked scientists to review the two-metre social distancing rule to see if it can be reduced in an effort to help public transport and the hospitality sector.
Appearing at the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Boris Johnson told MPs that members of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) had been told to review the guidance.
While hotels and restaurants are currently scheduled to start reopening from July 4, hope has been raised for beer gardens to be opened much sooner. Mr Johnson said: ‘On hospitality… we are really trying to go as fast as we can. It is really difficult to bring forward hospitality measures in a way that involves social distancing.
‘But I am much more optimistic about that than I was. We may be able to do things faster than I previously thought.’
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He added: ‘My own hope is that as we make progress in getting the virus down, in reducing the incidence, that we will be able to reduce that distance, which I think will be particularly valuable in transport and clearly the hospitality sector.’
The Prime Minister said that advice from Sage remains that there is ‘a very considerable reduction in risk at two metres’.
When pressed by Tory MP Greg Clark to have Sage review the distance restriction, Mr Johnson replied: ‘I can not only make that commitment, I can tell you I’ve already done just that.’
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), said pub jobs could be lost as there would need to be fewer staff in order to maintain the advised two-metre social distancing, which many pubs would find ‘impossible’ to implement.
She said: ‘Reopening in July will be great for those pubs who can meet the social distancing measures required by then.
‘However, unless social distancing restrictions are reduced to the WHO’s (World Health Organisation) suggested one metre, two-thirds of pub jobs could be lost.
‘It is vital that the Government allows pubs to reopen under those safe conditions in July, so that they can operate at a sustainable level and become pillars of the community once more.
‘Under two-metre social distancing rules, pubs will have less space to operate with so will need less staff.’
Public Health England’s medical director, Professor Yvonne Doyle, previously said the UK had taken a ‘cautionary’ approach to introducing the rule when other countries were using shorter distances.
She told the Science and Technology Select Committee: ‘We are aware of the international differences and I am sure this will be the subject of continued investigation as to whether two metres is actually necessary or whether that can be reduced further.’
Catherine Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, later told the committee there was very little evidence of outdoor transmission of the virus.
However, she said there was evidence of virus transmission within two metres.
Research from the American Institute of Physics, published earlier this month, found saliva droplets can travel more than five metres in five seconds if there is a slight breeze of around 4kph (2.5mph).
Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘This is a reminder that the two-metre rule is recommended, not because staying two metres away from all other people provides you with a force-field against infection, but because it is a reasonable distance to stay away from people to reduce risk of infection.’
He said that while staying two metres apart is better than keeping a one-metre distance, the protective effect of this measure is ‘not proportional to the distance’.
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