Coronavirus: Boris Johnson ‘to scrap two-metre distancing rule in bid to reopen schools’

Reports come as prime minister faces pressure from Tory MPs to axe current rules in bid to boost economy

Tom Barnes
Thursday 11 June 2020 07:25
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Boris Johnson wants to end the two-metre social distancing rule by September at the latest to allow schools to fully reopen for the new academic year, according to reports.

Mr Johnson has told ministers he wants to change the rule within weeks, possibly to bring the UK into line with World Health Organisation guidelines advising people keep a distance of one metre, according to The Telegraph.

The news comes after the government’s chief scientific officer, Sir Patrick Vallance, suggested the two-metre social distancing measures were not a hard and fast “scientific rule”.

Asked at Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing whether the restriction may be changed to one metre as schools try to welcome back pupils, Sir Patrick said: “It is not a rule, it is not a scientific rule – it is a risk-based assessment on when risk reduces.

“And the risks are associated with distance – so the risk falls after two metres – time, what mitigating factors you can put in place, which can include whether you are sitting side-by-side, back-to-back or face-to-face, whether you’ve got face covering, whether there is ventilation and other measures.”

He added: “It is wrong to portray this as a scientific rule that says it is two metres or nothing – that is not what the advice has been and it is not what the advice is now.”

Mr Johnson says he wants all pupils back in classrooms by September, after abandoning plans to get more primary school children back in class before England’s summer break – admitting the government had been forced to move “slower than we would have liked in some areas”.

Meanwhile, the prime minister is also under increasing pressure from his own MPs to scrap the two-metre rule in order to prevent further damage to the economy.

Mr Johnson “instinctively” wants to relax guidelines, but is concerned about a potential second wave of coronavirus, the Daily Mail reported.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith told the Mail reducing the two-metre rule to one metre was the “single most important priority to unlock the economy.”

“The difference between one and two metres is the difference between opening the economy properly and seeing it bump along at the bottom without being able to bounce back,” he added.

“The hospitality sector simply can’t make a living at two metres.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister had given his strongest hint yet the government may soon relax two-metre rule.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson told the Commons: “I believe that those measures, the two-metre rule, need now be kept under review.

“As we drive this disease down, as we get the incidence down, working together, I want to make sure we keep that two-metre rule under constant review.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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