The falling numbers of coronavirus cases in England has given the British Government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the two-metre social-distancing rule, Boris Johnson has said.
The British Prime Minister, who has ordered a “comprehensive” review of the regulation in England, said “probably” fewer than one in 1,000 people now had the virus, meaning the chances of coming in contact with someone who was infected were increasingly remote.
Earlier Britain’s Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the review would look at the issue “in the round”, drawing on advice from economists as well as the Government’s scientific and medical advisers.
Today I visited Westfield shopping centre in east London, to meet some of the people who work there. They've been working very hard to get ready to reopen tomorrow when we're hoping people will return to the shops. pic.twitter.com/yx7QDKFm08
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 14, 2020
He said it would be ministers, not the scientists, who would take the decisions on any relaxation of the two-metre requirement.
The move comes as non-essential shops in England prepare to open their doors to customers on Monday for the first time since the lockdown was imposed in March.
Speaking during a visit to the Westfield shopping centre in east London to highlight the re-openings, Mr Johnson said people should be able to “shop with confidence” as they returned to the high street.
With official figures showing the economy shrank by a fifth in April, ministers are desperate to get economic activity going again amid warnings of further large scale job losses to come.
British Ministers are under intense pressure from Conservative MPs who see the easing of the two-metre rule as crucial to the next phase of the reopening, including pubs and restaurants, slated for early July.
Mr Johnson said they were constantly looking at the evidence to see when it would be safe to do so.
“As we get the numbers down, so it becomes one in a thousand, one in 1600, maybe fewer, your chances of being, two metres, one metre or even a foot away from somebody who has the virus are obviously going down statistically, so you start to build some more margin for manoeuvre and we’ll be looking at that,” he said.
During a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Sunak, who is among the ministers pressing for a relaxation of the two-metre rule, said countries such as Denmark and Norway had already adopted shorter measures.
He said that moving to a lesser distance could be the difference to between “maybe three-quarters and a third” of pubs being able to re-open sustainably next month.
Scientists advising the Government, including chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty, have previously signalled their reluctance to see any easing while the Covid-19 epidemic continues.
Mr Sunak, however, made clear that it was for elected politicians to make the final decisions.
“Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance (the Government’s chief scientific adviser) throughout all of this have provided advice to ministers,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“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.”