More Tories call for two-metre social distancing rule to be relaxed

Social distancing signage on a gate at Perry Barr Greyhound Stadium. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wir

Social distancing signage on a gate at Perry Barr Greyhound Stadium. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

More Tories - including former ministers - have joined calls for the two-metre social distancing rule to be reduced in order to prioritise the economy.

Both Norman Lamont, a former chancellor, and Theresa Villiers, a former environment secretary, have pointed to the smaller social distancing recommendations seen in other countries as cause for the government to urgently reduce the UK's recommended distance.

Writing in the Daily Mail, former chancellor Lamont said halving the rule to one metre was 'the single most important measure we must take' to avoid 'devastating mass unemployment'.

In his column, Lamont cites British Beer and Pub Association figures showing that, with the current two metre rule, only '20 to 30% of premises will be able to open at a sustainable level'.

Lamont writes: 'At one metre, it hits 70%.

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'The onus is on the (government's) advisers to explain why it is that, while Britons must stay two metres apart, the World Health Organisation recommends one metre - as do many other European countries, acting on their scientists' advice.'

Villiers echoed Lamont's sentiments while speaking on BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour.

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She said: 'I think we should take comfort from the World Health Organisation that one to two metres is safe and the fact that many other countries have taken the approach of one or 1.5 metres, that demonstrates that can be managed safely.

'Indeed the government's own advice to employers who are opening up the workplace again is that where two metres can't be maintained, a closer distance is okay as long as you manage the transmission risk in other ways.

'Unless we ease the two metre rule, the hospitality sector is likely to stay closed.'

Iain Duncan Smith, former work and pensions minister, was one of the first to call for the relaxation.

'We need to get [the economy] moving as quick as possible and I've certainly been arguing that for some weeks now,' before pointing to areas where there can be 'flexibility', including hospitality.

He added: 'What I'm saying is that in certain conditions, like restaurants, particularly when they're outside, maybe they can look at that because that in itself will help encourage the economy'.

Last week prime minister Boris Johnson reiterated his support for the two metre rule, saying: 'I must stress that to control the virus, everyone needs to stay alert, act responsibly, strictly observe social distancing rules, and stay two metres apart from those who you do not live with.'

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