Ministers rather than scientific advisers will take the final decision on whether to ease the two-metre social distancing rule, chancellor Rishi Sunak has said.
Sunak confirmed that Boris Johnson has ordered a ‘comprehensive review’ of the rule in England as the government continues its lifting of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
He said that it would look at the issue ‘in the round’, drawing on advice from economists as well as scientific and medical experts.
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.
Ministers are under intense pressure from Conservative MPs who see the easing of the two-metre rule as crucial to the further reopening of the economy.
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Sunak acknowledged it would have a significant impact on whether the hospitality sector can reopen, which the government has slated for early July.
‘The prime minister has put in place a comprehensive review of the two-metre rule. That review will involve the scientists, the economists and others so that we can look at it in the round,’ he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
‘You are right to highlight the impact it has on business – it is the difference between maybe three-quarters and a third of pubs opening, for example, so it is important the we look at it.
‘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 as well.
‘It is important that we look at it comprehensively, in the round, and that is what we will do urgently.’
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.
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 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.
‘I think that people are comforted and have confidence in those decisions if they know that we are taking advice from our scientists.’