Debate about 1 metre or 2 metres 'missing the point' says Lancet editor

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th June 2020

Yesterday restaurateurs implored that the government make haste in its review of the 2 metre social distancing policy to give them time to plan for the hospitality sector reopening on july 4th. 

The matter is increasingly contentious as the level of division among the scientific community - and the British government's current line - have left some wondering whether it's a case of fact-based reasoning and political strategy.

How crucial is the rule to keeping Covid-19 at bay?

This morning, 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. 

A lot rests on the rule

The problem is, for the hospitality industry, there is a huge amount at stake. 

As published by Politics Home, The British Beer & Pub Association recently warned that 40% of the UK’s 47,000 pubs may never reopen as a direct result of the lockdown.

What's more, many businesses say they cannot reopen, or that it would not be economical for them to do so if the two metre rule is maintained.

This is because it would require them to reduce their customer capacity from between 75% to 90%, making it almost impossible to operate a viable business.

Other countries are an example of how much of a difference a relaxation of the rules can make: in Denmark, which has cut social distancing down to a metre, shows pubs would only have to cut the amount of patrons allowed in by 30% under a reduced rule. 

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, 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 16th June 2020

Debate about 1 metre or 2 metres 'missing the point' says Lancet editor