The U.K. government will reduce its two-meter social distancing rule this week, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed, following intense pressure from the hospitality industry that it makes profitable operations impossible.
There have been rumors for weeks that the government would ditch the rule in favor of a shorter distance as is the case in several European countries, but ministers have been reluctant to pre-empt the outcome of a review of the measure. Pubs and restaurants are due to reopen on July 4, but the industry has warned that keeping customers 2 meters apart — a little over 6 feet — to reduce the spread of coronavirus is impossible for many establishments.
“The proposals that we’ll bring forward are how you can safely … reduce two meters,” Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
“There’s all sorts of mitigations that you can put in place so that you can be physically closer than two meters but not have the transmission of the virus or the risk of transmission that you would otherwise have,” he added, citing Perspex screens and face masks.
Asked why government advisers had placed such emphasis in the past on the two-meter rule Hancock suggested that new knowledge about the virus meant it was possible to reduce the distance.
“Of course, we’re learning more about the virus all the time and the decisions that we take will be of course guided by the science as we have been throughout this,” said Hancock.
Peter Piot, the head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the rule created a “false sense of security.” “I’m pretty relaxed as long as it is associated with mandatory wearing of face masks,” he said.
Piot added that the U.K.’s 14-day quarantine rule for returning travelers is “completely useless.”