Q&A: What is the social distancing debate - and why does it matter?

Social distancing guidelines were placed around Norwich city centre ahead of shops reopening on June

Social distancing guidelines were placed around Norwich city centre ahead of shops reopening on June 15. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The relaxing of the two-metre social distancing rule is set to be discussed as part of new government plans today.

Businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector, have made calls for the government to reduce the distance to one metre to allow more industries to reopen and boost the economy.

And on Tuesday, prime minister Boris Johnson is to set out plans to allow pubs, restaurants, museums and cinemas to begin reopening next month.

• Why do we have a social distancing rule?

To stop the virus - which is spread via droplets released when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes.

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Under the current rule people are urged to stay two metres apart from those they don’t live with when out and about.

Regularly washing hands and wearing face masks are other measures that can help limit the spread of the virus.

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Scientists have argued that the risk of exposure to the virus reduces with increased physical distance.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) was told earlier this month that a one-metre distance could carry up to 10 times the risk of two metres.

Who wants the rule changed and why?

Many of the country’s closed bars, pubs and restaurants have asked for the reduction to one metre if they are allowed to reopen from July 4.

The hospitality industry has argued it is not financially viable to operate with two metres, and say a reduction would save thousand of jobs.

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The change to one metre could allow more schools to reopen fully by September.

Many school leaders said they were not able to open to more pupils because of a lack of space for distancing.

How will any decision to change the social distancing rule be made?

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said that the two metre rule is “relative” rather than “absolute” and could be changed based on the setting and the prevalence of Covid-19.

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, has previously suggested social distancing restrictions could be in place for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The prime minister has said that falling numbers of coronavirus cases gave the government “more margin for manoeuvre” in easing the two-metre rule and emphasised he is “sticking like glue” to his road map for easing the coronavirus lockdown for the hospitality sector from July 4.

What rules do other countries have?

Some countries, including France, Denmark and Singapore, have been following a distancing restriction half the measure of the UK limit.

This is because the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a “minimum” distance of one metre between people from different households to avoid transmission of the virus.

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