CMOs say Coronavirus threat level can be reduced - meaning 2m rule could be dropped

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th June 2020

Senior government advisers on health have sent a letter urging policymakers to drop the Coronavirus threat level from 4 to 3 - and its advice has been upheld

In effect, this allows for a relaxation of the lockdown measures - including the 2 metre social distancing guideline.

The joint statement from the CMOs for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to The Sun, reads: "The Joint Biosecurity Centre has recommended that the COVID-19 alert level should move from Level 4 (a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation; transmission is high or rising exponentially) to Level 3 (a Covid-19 epidemic is in general circulation).

"There has been a steady decrease in cases we have seen in all four nations, and this continues.

"It does not mean that the pandemic is over. The virus is still in general circulation, and localised outbreaks are likely to occur.

"We have made progress against the virus thanks to the efforts of the public and we need the public to continue to follow the guidelines carefully to ensure this progress continues."

In practice, a relaxation of the guidelines would allow much of the hospitality industry to reopen, whereas a two metre rule could see many businesses go bust. 

Reacting to the change, Health Minister Matt Hancock told The Guardian: “The UK moving to a lower alert level is a big moment for the country, and a real testament to the British people’s determination to beat this virus.

“The government’s plan is working. Infection rates are rapidly falling, we have protected the NHS and, thanks to the hard work of millions in our health and social care services, we are getting the country back on her feet.”

Is the 2 metre rule guided by exact science?

Last week, Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, one of the country's oldest and most respected peer-reviewed medical journals, wrote a Tweet clarifying that the distance at which people should be allowed from one another could and should not exist in isolation, and had to factor in other prevention measures.

He said: "The debate about 1 metre or 2 metres is missing the point. What matters is combination prevention—physical distancing (minimum 1 metre, more if you can), hand washing, respiratory hygiene, face masks in enclosed spaces, and avoid mass gatherings. 2 metres is no magic bullet."

The UK government has repeatedly claimed to be stringently following the science when setting out policies relating to Coronavirus - but, as one can conclude by looking at other countries, often there is some level of discord between scientific advisors, and policymaking comes down to making political decisions. 

What's stopping the government from relaxing the rules?

Because there is disagreement among the scientific community, with members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) group saying they were "suspicious" of the World Health Organisation's analysis of the difference in risk between 1 and 2 metres distance, last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said the decision to relax the rules ultimately falls on ministers. 

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr that the government would "actively" reconsider the 2 metre social distancing rule, given its "enormous impact" on businesses up and down the country.  

The results of the review will be broadcast ahead of restaurants reopening on July 4th, and are seen as a massive factor in whether they will be able to reopen or not - and whether they will be able to generate enough revenue if and when they do. 

The Chancellor said that "many other countries" apply a rule less than 2 metres - as we know most neighbouring EU countries do. 

He added that much as he, as everybody, would like to see the social distance reduced "from an economic perspective," we can only do that if it's safe and responsible to do so."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th June 2020

CMOs say Coronavirus threat level can be reduced - meaning 2m rule could be dropped