POLITICS
14/06/2020 11:28 BST | Updated 14/06/2020 18:35 BST

Rishi Sunak Confirms 'Urgent' Review Of Two-Metre Social Distancing Rule

Industry fears mass job losses if restriction not relaxed but experts warn of a second peak in UK Covid cases.

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed Boris Johnson has ordered a “comprehensive review” on the two-metre rule on coronavirus social distancing. 

Confirming any cut to from two metres to one would “ultimately” be “for ministers” to decide, he said the government was now looking at the issue – seen as crucial to the restarting the economy – “in the round”.

Scientists and health experts advising the government have urged caution but industry and Tory backbenchers say if two-metre rule is not scrapped millions of job losses in the hospitality and retail sectors could follow.

Asked if chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance would have to back changes, the chancellor said: “Not necessarily, no”.

Speaking on both Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday and BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Sunak also stressed it it “safe” for the public to go shopping on Monday as non-essential retail prepares to open shops for the first time since the lockdown was announced. 

Underlining the “impact it has on business”, Sunak said the two-metre rule was “the difference between maybe three-quarters and a third of pubs opening”. 

The World Health Organisation recommends maintaining a distance of once metre, but many experts in the UK think the move could pave the way for a second spike in infections. 

PA
Chancellor Rishi Sunak arrives in Downing Street, London.

The review will involve economists and government advisers, he said.

He told Sky News: “Obviously many other countries around the world use a different rule. We have seen a couple of countries recently – Norway and Denmark – have moved from two metres to something less.

“It is important that we look at it comprehensively, in the round, and that is what we will do urgently.”

Speaking to BBC presenter Andrew Marr, Sunak, whose government has repeatedly said it is “guided by the science”, admitted that “ultimately” ministers would decide on the guidance. 

“Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance throughout all of this have provided advice to ministers,” he said. 

“Ultimately it is for ministers. We are the people who are elected to make decisions in this country. People should hold us responsible and accountable for making those decisions.

“I think that people are comforted and have confidence in those decisions if they know that we are taking advice from our scientists.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, meanwhile, said the two-metre social distancing rule should only be relaxed if the science backs such a move.

He told Sky News that public health and the economy were not “in conflict” but rather go hand in hand. 

“If it did move to one metre without there being scientific advice backing that you would end up with a second peak, which would cause even greater economic damage,” he said. 

“My message to the government is to be vigilant, be cautious, approach this in a structured way and publish the evidence so we can all see it, and we can get that restoration of confidence in the public health advice that the Dominic Cummings affair did so much damage to.”

Chief inspector of Ofsted Amanda Spielman, meanwhile, said “a reduced distance expectation will flow through to a greater capacity in schools”. 

It comes amid much criticism that the government has been unable to reopen schools to all pupils, with many worrying about the impact on disadvantaged children. 

Spielman said the government must ensure the rules were safe but said children were “losing so much now” in terms of education, social interaction and future employment opportunities by missing out on school.