Britain’s two-metre social distancing rule is remaining in place, Number 10 said today – despite growing pressure on ministers to reduce it.
MPs have called for the distance to be loosened in line with other countries such as Germany, to save jobs and allow more businesses to reopen.
If pubs, theatres and other hospitality venues have to abide by the two-metre rule, it would severely restrict how many could enter and businesses could go bust.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the matter is ‘under review’ but added: ‘The current guidance is the two-metre rule should remain in place.’
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH), which represents workers, today argued it is vital the two-metre rule stayed in place to protect staff.
It comes after a major study last night keeping one metre apart can slash the risk of catching coronavirus by 80 per cent.
The World Health Organization-funded review revealed there is a roughly 1.3 per cent chance of contracting the virus when two metres from an infected patient. But halving this gap raised the risk to only 2.6 per cent.
Guidance from WHO stipulates one-metre social distancing – and Britain is one of only a handful of countries going farther.
France, Sweden, and Austria all follow the UN agency’s advice. Germany, Australia and the Netherlands have opted for 1.5 metres.
Researchers found there was roughly a 1.3 per cent chance of contracting the virus when two metres from an infected patient. But halving this gap raised the risk to only 2.6 per cent. This means the disease would spread to fewer than three in 100 people, against 13 in 100 without any social distancing at all. That equates to an 80 per cent reduction in risk
Politicians and business leaders have claimed the small increased risk from relaxing the two-metre restriction would be worth the economic benefits.
Environment secretary Theresa Villiers called for the distance to be reduced in line with some other countries’ rules to save jobs and help the hospitality sector reopen.
Miss Villiers told BBC Radio 4: ‘I think we should take comfort from the World Health Organization that one to two metres is safe.
‘And the fact many other countries have taken the approach of one or 1.5 metres, that demonstrates that can be managed safely.’
She added: ‘Unless we ease the two metre rule, the hospitality sector is likely to stay closed.’
Former chancellor Norman Lamont said halving the rule to one metre was ‘the single most important measure we must take’ to avoid ‘devastating mass unemployment’.
Commons Science Committee Greg Clark revealed he had written a letter to Boris Johnson urging the Prime Minister to relax the two metre rule.
Mr Clark said: ‘The difference between 2m and 1.5m may seem small but it can be the difference between people being able to go to work and losing their jobs.’
However, on Tuesday Number 10 said the Government believes the two-metre rule should remain in place.
What is the science behind two-metre social distancing rule?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a one metre distance between two people from separate households.
The reason for this, as stated on its website, is that: ‘When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person has the disease.’
But other countries have taken advice from their own health experts and social distancing varies from two metres (in the UK) down to one metre (in France)
The two metre rule can be traced back to research in the 1930s that showed droplets of liquid from coughs or sneezes would land within a one-two metre range.
Social distancing varies between different countries:
TWO METRES: UK, Switzerland, US, Spain, Italy
1.5 METRES: Germany, Poland, Netherlands
ONE METRE: Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland
SO, WHAT HAVE THE STUDIES SHOWN?
Number 10’s chief scientific adviser – Sir Patrick Vallance – has said that the one metre rule is up to 30 times more risky than the two metre rule.
He told MPs earlier this month the risk of spending a minute next to a Covid-19 patient for two minutes was ‘about the same’ as being within a metre of a Covid-19 case for six seconds.
The latest evidence, published in The Lancet, found there was roughly a 2.6 per cent chance of catching the virus when one metre from a Covid patient. But doubling the gap cut the risk to only 1.3 per cent.
One of the top scientific advisers to the British Government said the two metre social distancing rule is based on ‘very fragile’ evidence.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a member of Nervtag, referred to it as a ‘rule of thumb’ rather than a scientifically proven measure.
Other experts have said the distance may be a non-scientific estimate that just caught on in countries around the world.
IS TWO METRES ENOUGH?
The UK’s coronavirus social distancing limit is four times too short and the gap should be 26 feet, said experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in March.
They found viral droplets expelled in coughs and sneezes can travel in a moist, warm atmosphere at speeds of between 33 and 100ft per second.
This creates a cloud in the atmosphere that can span approximately 23ft to 27ft (seven metres to eight metres) to neighbouring people, the team said.
Another study by scientists in Cyprus, published a fortnight ago, added to the evidence when it found the two-metre rule may not be far enough.
Researchers found even in winds of two miles per hour (mph) – the speed needed for smoke to drift – saliva can travel 18 feet in just five seconds.
And scientists from the universities of California Santa Barbara and Stanford last week said the two metre rule may have to be trebled when winter strikes.
They found droplets that carry SARS-CoV-2 – the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – can travel up to 20feet (six metres) in cold and humid areas.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also urged Scots to continue to adhere to the current guidance of two metres.
Ms Sturgeon said today: ‘You might be reading or hearing in the media today some voices saying that one metre is sufficient, so I want to take the opportunity today to stress that the clear and the strong advice from the Scottish Government is to stay two metres apart from those in other households.’
It comes after a new study suggested physical distancing of two metres only reduced the risk of coronavirus transmission by a small amount compared to one metre.
The WHO found there was roughly a 1.3 per cent chance of contracting the virus when two metres from an infected patient. But halving this gap raised the risk to only 2.6 per cent.
This means the disease would spread to fewer than three in 100 people, against 13 in 100 without any social distancing at all. That equates to an 80 per cent reduction in risk.
The study showed nothing could provide complete protection, although face masks have a strong shielding effect – reducing the risk of catching the virus by up to 85 per cent.
The research, published in medical journal The Lancet, added to the clamour for Britain’s two-metre rule social distancing rule to be relaxed.
Previously scientists have said the two-metre rule lacks any validity.
Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the government’s scientific advisory body New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which feeds into SAGE, said the two metre rule ‘has never had much of an evidence base’, suggesting it is safe to stand closer to someone.
Following the Lancet publication, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) stressed the ‘vital’ importance of the two-metre distance as more businesses prepare to open.
The professional body, which represents those who work in environmental health roles such as in the food, housing and transport industries, urged the Government to maintain the two-metre guidance especially as ‘riskier’ businesses including pubs prepare to open.
CIEH Wales director Kate Thompson said: ‘The World Health Organisation advice for distances of at least one metre to be maintained, to prevent the spread of coronavirus, has led to strong pressure from certain industries to reduce social distancing between individuals from the current two metres.
‘However, this advice was only ever an absolute minimum, rather than a safe distance, and new evidence published today supports this longer distance.
‘Protecting public health and avoiding the possibility of a second peak of infections should be key. It is, therefore, vital that the two-metre rule is not reduced due to pressure from industry.’
The WHO study reviewed data from 172 existing studies on the spread of Covid-19, SARS and MERS.
It concluded: ‘Keeping a distance of over one metre from other people was associated with a much lower risk of infection compared with less than one metre.
‘However, the modelling suggests for every extra metre further away up to three metres, the risk of infection or transmission may halve.’
The study also adds to evidence that face masks should be worn on public transport and in busy areas, and highlights the importance of PPE for healthcare workers.
It found that the risk of catching the virus when wearing a mask was just three per cent, compared to 17 per cent when not wearing a mask.
Co-author Dr Derek Chu, from McMaster University, said: ‘We believe that solutions should be found for making face masks available to the general public. However, people must be clear that wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing, eye protection or basic measures such as hand hygiene, but might add an extra layer of protection.’
Former ministers Mr Lamont and Miss Villiers had pointed to the smaller social distancing recommendations in other countries.
Figures from the British Beer and Pub Association figures show that, with the current two metre rule, only 20 to 30 per cent of premises will be able to open at a sustainable level.
However, if the rule was reduced to one metre, 70 per cent would be able to open.
Mr Lamont said: ‘The onus is on the (Government’s) advisers to explain why it is that, while Britons must stay two metres apart, the World Health Organisation recommends one metre – as do many other European countries, acting on their scientists’ advice.’
Last Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his support for the two metre rule, saying: ‘I must stress that to control the virus, everyone needs to stay alert, act responsibly, strictly observe social distancing rules, and stay two metres apart from those who you do not live with.’
SCRAP THE TWO METRE RULE TO SAVE OUR PUBS: SENIOR TORIES DEMAND BORIS REDUCES SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURE – OR SEE APOCALYPTIC JOB LOSSES IN THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR
Senior Tory MPs have urged Boris Johnson to reduce the UK’s two metre social distancing rule as they warned failure to do so could risk a wave of redundancies in the hospitality sector.
There is a growing campaign for the existing restriction to be eased to one and a half metres or even just one metre.
This would give pubs, bars, restaurants and theatres much more room for manoeuvre when they are allowed to reopen and significantly increase the number of patrons allowed in a specific premises.
That could in turn boost the financial health of businesses and stop them from having to make staff redundant because of lower revenues.
Tory MPs, including former business secretary Greg Clark and former Brexit secretary David Davis, are seeking an urgent commitment from the PM to change the rules.
Meanwhile, Tory former chancellor Lord Lamont said reducing the rule is ‘urgently important’ because it is the one ‘single measure’ which could save many firms.
Pub chiefs have warned that if the two metre rule remains in place then two thirds are likely to remain shut.
But if it is reduced to one metre then three quarters could reopen immediately.
Polling has also suggested that 40 per cent of pubs would not be able to survive until September if they have to remain closed.
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