Coronavirus: Lockdown to be relaxed in England as 2m rule eased

Coronavirus: Lockdown to be relaxed in England as 2m rule eased

A three picture composite of a hairdresser works in London on 18 March 2020, a deserted Coliseum Theatre in London on 11 June 2020 and person uses outdoor gym in Clapham on 24 March 2020

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PA Media

Pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers can open from 4 July in England, when social distancing rules will be eased.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people should remain 2m apart where possible but a “one metre plus” rule will be introduced.

Two households in England will also be able to meet indoors and stay overnight – with social distancing.

The prime minister warned that all the steps were “reversible”.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, said Covid-19 will be in circulation “at least” until next spring and the relaxation represents a “reasonable balance of risk”.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster have said the 2m rule will remain in place in their nations for the time being.

Indoor gyms, swimming pools, nail bars and indoor play areas are among the list of businesses that will remain closed, as they have been since lockdown started on 23 March.

During the government’s final daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Johnson said “task forces” are being established to work out how they too, can reopen.

The meeting of households will not be exclusive so, for example, one set of grandparents could see their relatives one weekend, and the other set of grandparents the next.

But, unlike the bubble system, people will have to maintain social distance – so family members who live apart will not be able to hug.

In a statement in the Commons earlier, Mr Johnson said people would be encouraged to use “mitigation” – such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face – when less than 2m from each other but “where it is possible to keep 2m apart, people should”.

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Media captionBoris Johnson is cheered as he announces English pubs can reopen from 4 July

During the briefing, Prof Whitty warned the UK “will get an uptick” if people do not take mitigations seriously.

And Mr Johnson urged people to be vigilant, saying the virus “wants to take advantage of our carelessness”.

He said there will be local outbreaks in the future.

“If the virus were to begin to run out of control I will not hesitate to put on the handbrake and reverse these changes at a local, or indeed national level, as required,” he said.

The venues listed as being able to reopen include:

  • Pubs, bars and restaurants but only with a table service indoors, and owners will be asked to keep contact details of customers to help with contact tracing
  • Hotels, holiday apartments, campsites and caravan parks but shared facilities must be cleaned properly
  • Theatres and music halls but they will not be allowed to hold live performances
  • In other changes weddings will be allowed to have 30 attendees, and places of worship will be allowed to hold services but singing will be banned
  • Hair salons and barbers will be able to reopen but must have protective measures, such as visors, in place
  • Libraries, community centres and bingo halls
  • Cinemas, museums and galleries
  • Funfairs, theme parks, adventure parks, amusement arcades, skating rinks and model villages
  • Indoor attractions where animals are exhibited, such as at zoos, aquariums, farms, safari parks and wildlife centres

What cannot open from 4 July?

The following places will remain closed by law

  • Nightclubs and casinos
  • Bowling alleys and indoor skating rinks
  • Indoor play areas including soft-play
  • Spas
  • Nail bars and beauty salons
  • Massage, tattoo and piercing parlours
  • Indoor fitness and dance studios, and indoor gyms and sports venues/facilities – although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden tweeted that ministers hope to be able to reopen gyms and leisure facilities in mid-July
  • Swimming pools and water parks
  • Exhibition or conference centres – other than for those who work for that venue.

Read more detail on how lockdown measures are easing in England here.

Responding to Mr Johnson’s statement on Tuesday afternoon, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “I believe the government is trying to do the right thing and in that I support them”.

He added he thought it was “safe for some children to return to school” and he urged clarity over getting all children back to school safely.

Restrictions have to lift at some point. The big question is whether the UK is moving too soon.

The number of infections has fallen dramatically.

There are now just over 1,000 new cases a day on average.

That compares with an estimated 100,000 at the peak at the end of March – we don’t know the exact figure because there was limited testing in place.

Huge progress has, therefore, been made.

But the number of infections is still significantly higher than other countries.

France and Germany are seeing fewer than half the number of infections that the UK is (and Germany has a larger population), while Italy has fewer than a quarter.

It is why there are plenty of experts, including former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King, voicing concern that restrictions are easing too quickly.

But, of course, not lifting them comes at a cost too – to the economy, to people’s health and wellbeing and to wider society.

At the end of the day it is a finely balanced judgement call.

We will only know whether it was the right one or not in the weeks and months to come.

Current evidence suggests being 1m apart carries between two and 10 times the risk of being 2m apart, scientists advising the government have said.

Under new guidance, the government wants people to keep 2m apart where they can. If not, to remain at least 1m apart while taking steps to reduce the risk of transmission.

They include measures such as not sitting face-to-face, cutting the number of people in an enclosed space, or by having hand-sanitiser available to use.

Mr Johnson stressed that the government is not “forcing” people to limit their social contact through legislation, but is “asking them to follow guidance”.

Police will still be able to “break up large and irresponsible gatherings”, he said.

Earlier, he said it was each nation’s own responsibility to make their own lockdown restrictions but said all parts of the UK were now “travelling in the same direction”.

The prime minister added he did not believe there was “a risk of a second peak of infections that might overwhelm the NHS”.

He highlighted a further decline in the seven-day rolling average of deaths, and championed an increase in testing – now totalling over 8 million since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the latest official figures, the R value for the UK – the average number of people that one infected person passes the virus on to – was between 0.7 and 0.9.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who also spoke at the briefing, said the public should not “be fooled” into thinking that the virus has “gone away”.

“The disease is growing across the world,” he said.

Prof Whitty said he would be “surprised and delighted if we weren’t in this current situation through the winter and into next spring”.

“I think then let’s regroup and work out where we are, but I expect there to be a significant amount of coronavirus circulating at least into that time,” he said.

He noted that “the job of advisers is not to sign things off, it is to give advice”.

Mr Johnson said he “takes responsibility” for the decision, adding: “We’re indebted to our scientific colleagues for their advice continually, but it is our responsibility to choose.”

‘Big moment’

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said: “This is not a return back to normal business, but it is a very big moment, and a step to a new normal.

“One important point to note though, as I understand it, the advice from the government will still be that people should work at home if they can.”

Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: ” We are extremely pleased that pubs are reopening on 4 July after a long hiatus.

“We are going to discuss the precise government proposals with our pub managers and staff before we comment further on the details.”

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Getting venues open again, even with social distancing measures in place, is the best way to secure businesses and jobs.”

But she warned while many businesses would endeavour to reopen the capacity constraints caused by social distancing would mean some were unviable and government support remained “crucial”.

A further 171 deaths have been reported across all settings in the UK, taking the total to 42,927. Latest testing figures showed there were 874 positive cases identified in the 24 hours to 09:00 BST on Tuesday.

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