Britain is reviewing its two-metre social distancing rule ahead of the next stage of lockdown easing planned for July 4 when bars, restaurants and hairdressers could re-open in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says.
Progress in tackling the coronavirus pandemic had created “room for manoeuvre” on the rule, which many employers have said will make it harder to get back up to speed, Johnson said at an east London shopping centre preparing to re-open next week.
Britain has reported the third highest number of coronavirus deaths after the United States and Brazil, something critics of the government say reflects its response to the crisis.
The United Kingdom’s death toll from confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose by 36 to 41,698 as of June 13, according to government data released on Sunday.
Johnson’s Conservative Party government, which says it has followed scientific advice in its handling of the pandemic, faces the difficult balancing act of reviving the economy without allowing a second wave of cases.
“We’ll work closely with the scientists at all times and make the right decision on the basis of safety, health and stopping the disease,” Johnson said.
As COVID-19 in the population fell to 1 in 1600 or lower, the chances of catching the disease from an encounter of less than two metres had diminished, Johnson added.
“You start to build some more margin for manoeuvre,” he said.
“So we’ll be keeping it under review for July 4th.”
Finance minister Rishi Sunak earlier told Sky News the review would involve economists as well as scientists so it could be looked at “in the round”.
Lowering the distance people have to maintain from one another could provide an immediate benefit for English pubs, with Sunak saying three quarters could re-open rather than about one third with a two-metre rule.