Businesses warn government they cannot operate with two-metre rule

Business leaders warn No 10 that two-metre social distancing rule is NOT viable and is destroying economy

  • Industry leaders said sectors will not be able to operate with the two-metre rule   
  • Sage is worried reducing the distance will cause higher infection and death rates
  • Number 10 is actively looking to see how the social distance rule can be relaxed 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Businesses have been privately consulted by ministers on how reducing the two-metre rule would affect them.

Industry leaders warned them some sectors would be unable to operate unless the distance was relaxed to one metre.

But Number 10 is facing resistance from scientists on its Sage advisory committee, who are understood to have demanded their objections to reducing it are put on record.

The experts are said to have insisted official minutes include their fears of a higher infection rate and more deaths.

Industry leaders warned them some sectors would be unable to operate unless the distance was relaxed to one metre. Pictured: A window sticker outside a shop, asking customers to adhere to the British government’s current social distancing guidelines

Mr Johnson tasked Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill with canvassing opinion from businesses on the impact of the two-metre rule on their sectors, sources said yesterday.

A document resulting from the exercise is the first evidence that Number 10 is actively looking at how it can reduce the distance, which the Government has said it is keeping under review.

The consultation is being led by the Cabinet Office, Number 10 and the Treasury, which have approached businesses and other organisations to determine the effect of scrapping the rule.

Companies sent responses to Downing Street following a request for feedback on behalf of Sir Mark last week.

A virtual meeting was also held between civil servants and businesses earlier this week.

According to the document, the aviation sector has warned that it will be physically impossible for it to operate with people always two metres apart.

At one metre, however, passengers could travel and the tourism sector could reopen.

If the rule is relaxed, automotive factories could move from 50 per cent capacity to 100 per cent.

Train operators could operate at 40 per cent, up from 15 per cent at present, while bus operators would be able to increase their capacity to 35 to 40 per cent, up from 20 per cent.

Universities would be able to increase capacity significantly.

University College London, which has one of the largest lecture theatres in the country fitting 550 people, would be able to increase from 50 students to 250.

The hospitality sector, however, has warned that it is unlikely to be able to stay afloat even if the rule is relaxed to one metre.

Industry leaders who attended the virtual meeting said they were also told by civil servants the Government was facing pressure from backbenchers to relax the distance but scientists were digging in their heels.

They reportedly said Sage advisers ensured they had their concerns minuted. The Government wants to reopen the hospitality industry as early as July 4.

However, many businesses have said the two-metre rule would need to be reduced to one metre to make it commercially viable.

They insisted it would not be possible to enforce the distancing inside their small venues.

The World Health Organisation says one metre is safe.

But the UK Government insisted it was important to ‘move forward with caution’.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, this week told a media briefing that the two-metre rule is a political decision taken on advice from Sage.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister told a Westminster briefing: ‘As with all public health guidance, it is under constant review to ensure it reflects the latest advice from Sage.

‘That will be based also on the latest evidence we have on transmission of the virus.’

‘Scientists are digging in heels’

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