Ministers are due to announce this week whether the 2m social distancing rule in England will be relaxed, according to Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson commissioned the review on June 14, stating that there was ‘room for manoeuvre’ in the 2m social distancing rule as the the number of Covid-19 cases continues to fall. Last week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions that the Government’s review of the 2m rule would be ‘concluded shortly, within the coming days’.
The other nations of the UK have so far not announced any plans to alter the rule.
Amid warnings that many businesses will go under if current rules persist, the Government has been busy reviewing the advice. Mr Sunak hinted that the outcome of the review will make ‘an enormous difference’ to firms ‘anxious to see a change’. The Government has already stated that it hopes to allow pubs, restaurants and hotels to reopen from July, if safe.
Ministers are preparing to relax more coronavirus lockdown restrictions on July 4, although they have yet to give a specific date for the hospitality sector. The Chancellor, speaking on a tour of shops in North Yorkshire, admitted that although the review is as yet incomplete, the result will make life easier for many firms.
There is widespread concern as to the impact the 2m rule is having on the UK economy with the Government facing pressure from its own MPs and leaders of the hopitality sector to reduce the rule.
New measures for social distancing in hospitality sector
Mr Sunak’s comments follow a series of details reported in The Sunday Times showing how sections of the hospitality industry could look substantially different from pre-lockdown. The new measures for the sector could include drinkers being asked to order via an app rather than going to the bar and having staff patrol the venue to enforce social distancing.
Furthermore, tables in restaurants may not be set in advance and items of room service in hotels could be left outside the doors to guest rooms.
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the guidelines seen by the industry would require businesses to conduct their own risk assessments, rather than be forced to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach for ‘everything from a burger van in a park to the Fat Duck in Bray’.
Ms Nicholls added that while all hotels could reopen with the 2m rule in place, one third of pubs and restaurants could not. However, reducing the rule to 1m would mean that businesses could break even at 70 per cent of normal revenue, rather than generating 30 per cent of normal revenue and losing money.
Business owners gambling on 1m social distancing rule
As each passing day brings more delay and uncertainty as to the reopening date, Ms Nicholls said, the industry is losing money hand over fist and jobs and livelihoods are at stake. So much so that some pubs and restaurants are taking the matter of reopening into their own hands, in frustration at ministers’ failure to set a firm date.
Hotels such as The Pig, a boutique chain with locations across the south of England, have already begun taking bookings for guests from July 6, while Alton Towers owner Merlin Entertainments is allowing visitors to book a slot at some of its attractions from July 4, the earliest the industry has been told it could be permitted to reopen.
As the intended date draws near, some pubs and restaurants are drawing up plans for reopening regardless. Tom Kidd, co-founder and director of Adventure Bar, which operates nine cocktail bars in London, said the company is taking bookings across all of its sites from July 4.
The bars are gambling on being able to operate under a 1m social distancing rule, half the Government’s current guidance. Mr Kidd said that there comes a point when everyone has to assess their own individual circumstances, and in the absence of a definite date for reopening, he feels that the present is a now-or-never moment.