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Two metre rule could be relaxed raising hopes pubs can reopen

Two metre rule could be relaxed and is under frequent review raising hopes more pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen as lockdown eases

  • Yvonne Doyle said the UK took ‘cautionary’ approach compared to other nations
  • She claimed the policy is being reviewed to see if the distance can be reduced
  • Two metre rules are currently a huge obstacle for businesses in hospitality
  • JD Wetherspoon today revealed £11m plan to reopen its 875 pubs within weeks
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Plans to ease the two-metre social distancing rule will continue to be reviewed, public health leaders have said, raising hopes that more pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen.

Public Health England’s medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle told MPs that the UK had taken a ‘cautionary’ approach to introducing the rule when other countries were using shorter distances.

She told the Science and Technology Select Committee today that until more is known about how coronavirus is transmitted, the two-metre rule was ‘important’.

Staff at the Greenwich Tavern in Greenwich, London, start selling takeaway alcohol from a window directly out onto the street today

Staff serve takeaway drinks outside the Althorp pub, in Wandsworth, London today

Public Health England’s medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle told MPs today the two-metre social distancing rule will continue to be reviewed to see if it can be reduced

But when asked why the UK had decided on two metres when other countries like France, China and Hong Kong advised one metre, she said it will continue to be reviewed to see if it can be reduced.

Doing so would represent a huge boost for hard-hit industries such as hospitality, which are crucial to aiding Britain’s economic recovery. 

If the guidelines were relaxed, it would allow pubs, restaurants and hotels to welcome more people into their venues than what would be permitted under current social distancing guidance.

Tables could be moved closer together in restaurants, pubs could allow more people at the bar and hotels would be able to increase the numbers of visitors, all helping to drive profits and kick start their businesses.   

Prof Doyle said: ‘We are aware of the international differences and I am sure this will be the subject of continued investigation as to whether two metres is actually necessary or whether that can be reduced further.’ 

Easing lockdown measures was an ‘important decision’, she said, but also a trade-off between the needs of the economy and businesses and the anxieties of the public.

She added: ‘It is an important decision… and we are fully aware of that.

‘On one side we are aware of the requirements of the economy and business and on the other side we are aware of the concerns and anxieties of the population.

‘This is a trade-off, it is a balance, but you are quite right the science should inform the measures as we go forward.’

It comes as JD Wetherspoon today revealed its £11million masterplan to reopen its 875 pubs within weeks – and while the blueprint promises social distancing there is no mention of the two-metre rule.

The chain closed in March despite its chairman Tim Martin claiming the lockdown ‘wouldn’t save lives’ and the millionaire Brexiteeer also blasted Boris Johnson for not adopting a herd immunity policy.

With pubs expected to reopen in July, Wetherspoons drinkers will be told ‘not to meet in large groups’ and will be expected to sanitise their hands on arrival and at other times during their visit using dispensers dotted around the pubs. 

Wetherspoons will be very different places when they reopen and the pub chain has said it will spend £11million getting them ready

This is what a JD Wetherspoon pub bar will look like when they reopen with a screen to keep staff and drinkers apart

Customers will be asked to sanatise their hands on arrival – and throughout their visit – and pubs will have banners explaining the rules 

They will follow one-way systems to the toilets and through the bar where the tills will be screened off to protect staff likely to be wearing masks, gloves and eye protection, the chain said.

Staff will hand over all drinks holding the base of the pint or wine glass and when ordered via a smartphone they will be delivered to the table on a tray for the customers to take themselves to reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19. Families will be asked to keep children seated and always accompanied to the toilet.

The 875 pubs in UK and Ireland will open during its usual hours of 8am to around 1am and encourage customers to order using its app with posters put up telling them ‘there is no need to visit the bar’. But people can pay by cash or card at the till if necessary and must not move any furniture.

Drinkers will be encouraged to use many of the chain’s large gardens but inside tables will be surrounded by screens to ensure social distancing. The chain’s food menu will be pared back and condiment bottles removed and replaced with sachets to prevent coronavirus spreading via shared ketchup, mayonnaise and vinegar.

Every pub will also have a member of staff employed to sanatise the pubs, concentrating on door knobs, card machines and hand rails.

Catherine Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, told the committee today there was very little evidence of outdoor transmission of the virus.

She added: ‘The chances of you being able to inhale enough in an outdoor environment is very, very small.’

But she said that the two-mete rule was not over-precautionary because there was evidence of virus transmission within that distance.

Prof Noakes added: ‘It may be over-precautionary but actually it’s not, particularly when you are face to face with somebody.

‘There’s certainly evidence that people within two metres are able to be affected.’

Their comments come after the chief executive of a brewery warned that pubs will go bankrupt if staff and customers have to keep two metres apart.

Andy Wood of Adnams brewery said the two-metre social distancing rule will make it ‘very difficult’ for pubs to operate and suggested a reduction to one metre as long as it does not come at the expense of people’s safety.

Restaurants such as Bella Italia, pictured, have been closed but could reopen if social distancing rules are relaxed

Restaurants such as Cafe Rouge in Woking, Surrey, remain closed during the lockdown

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) told the PA news agency that if the UK followed the World Health Organisation’s advice of imposing a one-metre distance it would ‘enable many more pubs to viably reopen and serve their communities again’.

But after concluding a review, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has advised ministers that the two-metre rule should stay.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said that for many pubs, implementing a two-metre rule will be ‘impossible’ and mean they are closed for much longer.

‘Reopening in July will be great for those pubs who can meet the social-distancing measures required by then,’ she said.

‘However, it must be recognised that no two pubs are the same and for many, ensuring a distance of two metres will be impossible, keeping them closed for much longer.

‘Actioning advice from the WHO for example to use one metre for social distancing from July would enable many more pubs to viably reopen and serve their communities again.

‘We stand ready to work with the Government to help pubs reopen in a safe and financially viable way as soon as possible.’

Sunetra Gupta, a professor at the University of Oxford, claims there is a ‘strong possibility’ pubs and restaurants may be able to reopen immediately

Sunseekers were seen in Brighton yesterday, on the hottest day of the year so far, carrying drinks away from bars in takeaway cups

Earlier this week, a top scientist suggested pubs and restaurants may be safe to reopen immediately without risking a spike in the infection rate.

Sunetra Gupta, a professor at the University of Oxford, claims there is a ‘strong possibility’ businesses would be able to welcome customers once more, and avoid the kind of catastrophic consequences the government has warned could occur if lockdown restrictions aren’t eased in steady phases. 

Furthermore, she claimed long-term social distancing in fact makes the public more vulnerable to infectious diseases, by keeping them unprotected from pathogens. 

A study by Imperial College London, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, warned in March as many as half a million people could die in the UK if a strict lockdown wasn’t enforced.

However, Professor Gupta and her team at Oxford produced an alternative model, suggesting that half of all Brits could have already been exposed to Covid-19 and that the true infection fatality rate may be as low as 0.1 per cent. 

The study was controversial, but two months on, the scientist stands by the findings. 

She told Unherd: ‘I think there’s a chance we might have done better by doing nothing at all, or at least by doing something different, which would have been to pay attention to protecting the vulnerable, to have thought about protecting the vulnerable 30 or 40 years ago when we started cutting hospital beds.

‘It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile.’  

As lockdown measures were eased slightly last week, Brits have made their way to parks and beaches to take advantage of the recent warm weather.

Local businesses are also making the most of the opportunity after sunseekers were seen this week carrying drinks away from bars in takeaway cups.

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