'So what does 1m+ mean?'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

On Sunday, the news broke that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would soon introduce a 'one metre plus' social distancing rule in all indoor areas. 

The relaxation of the guideline, expected to be announced on Tuesday (as per The Telegraph, with a paper on what the guidelines for restaurants, bars and pub leaked and published by The Times) has long been awaited in the hospitality industry.

Many businesses would be unable to reopen on July 4th, the date which the Prime Minister envisaged restaurants, bars and pubs could reopen should the number of Coronavirus cases continue to fall. 

But what does one metre plus mean?

Dropping the 2 metre rule, but not really 

Some have called it an attempt to drop the rule without losing face, after months of defending the two metre rule. 

This would be an understandable approach, given that there are those who are against a relaxation of the rules, for fear that it might cause a surge in new infections. 



However, the policy has been explained as being slightly more complex. 

One metre, under certain conditions 

While more clarity is expected on Tuesday, the assumption is that businesses will be allowed to reopen under certain conditions: a leaked document seen by The Times 

"Following the science" has been the government's way of justifying its policies throughout the crisis, but as there are many disconcordances even among the scientific community, there is an argument to say that most decisions are ultimately political. 

A SAGE scientist, Callum Semple clarified for the BBC: "I’m still saying that two metres is safer than one but in my opinion it is now a reasonable political decision to relax these rules, perhaps accelerate school opening and start opening up other parts of the economy where it becomes harder to maintain the two metre rule and where you might envisage going down to one metre with other caveats and various precautions."

Additionally, a recent paper published by the group's modelling arm stated that in the instances where a situation where two metre distancing is impossible, "additional mitigation measures" could reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. 

These will include wearing "face coverings" and avoiding sitting face-to-face, in ways "bespoke to a setting and the activities carried out. 

In the case of restaurants, bars and pubs, this could include placing screens between tables where two metre distances are impossible, ordering on apps instead of interacting with waiters and bar staff, and laying tables as and when customers arrive rather than in advance. 

Additionally, restaurants could be asked to take names and numbers of all diners to pass the information on to contact tracers should an outbreak occur. 


But as the virus continues to spread around the world, with an R rate in Germany - which relaxed its lockdown measures in May - now well above one according to the WHO - some fear that a relaxation is unwise.

Yhis morning, Independent Sage, a consortium of scientists from within the government's advisory group, published a statement claiming that it is "too soon" to relax the rule indoors. 

It says: "The Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has considered all the public health evidence, including laboratory-based studies, in coming to its recommendation that reducing social distancing from 2 metres to 1 metre is not appropriate at this stage in the Covid-19 pandemic with current levels of infection.

"Moreover, as we detail here, there are additional behavioural reasons to be concerned at such a reduction.

Indoor environments, it argues "account for over 97% of "super-spreading" events across the world. 

It says that reducing the distance is appropriate when a very low level of infection is recorded in the community, and that an effective test, track and trace system is in place - which, due to the government's bespoke app's shortcomings isn't expected until autumn at the earliest. 

It states that given the fact that a 2 metre guideline can result in people getting closer, a 1 metre guideline would inhibit many from enacting any form of social distancing whatsoever. 

"Greater risk of transmission at 1 metre is likely even with suggested mitigating measures such as the use of face coverings and better ventilation of indoor areas." 

While these measures are likely to be helpful for short interactions such as on public transport, they are less so when contact lasts longer. 

The group called into question the government's decision to commission a separate review of scientific research alongside economic advice, prompting its review of the rule, asking that it publish the underlying research showing that it would be reasonable to do so.

Are these rules realistic?

 In addition to the health threat of reducing the social distancing measures, some have expressed doubts as to how easily the new guidelines would be to enforce. 


Others called out the lack of clarity shown in government. Chef Ottolenghi, appearing on Sky News, invoked fears that the relaxation wouldn't be enough - and that more action on rents, and more clarity, would be needed to make restaurants, bars and pubs viable upon reopening.

He said the one metre rule "makes the whole operation 'viable,' to a degree, nobody is going to be making money with a one metre rule, but at least we're going to survive.

"I think survival is what we really need to talk about. People do not understand that restaurants, which are jolly, happy places where people are having a good time, eating good food and getting a great do rely on a certain number of people coming through the door.'

"There is not much cash in this industry and we've been closed for longer than three months now. When we reopen, we're looking at a capacity of 50, 40, 60 percent.

"The lack of clarity makes things worse, because at least we know what we're preparing for." "We don't know what we're preparing for, so I'm extremely worried because it's not going to be easy, not at all."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 22nd June 2020

'So what does 1m+ mean?'