When does social distancing end? Date UK ‘one metre plus’ rule could be scrapped - and what Boris Johnson said
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Further lockdown restrictions are to be eased across the UK over the coming weeks, with changes to social distancing set to be brought in soon.
Under current rules, everyone must maintain a distance of at least “one metre plus” apart in order to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus.
However, the rule is expected to be scrapped later this year to allow venues to fully reopen, although the wearing of face masks may continue in some cases.
Here’s what you need to know.
When will social distancing end?
The “one metre plus” social distancing rule is due to be scrapped from 21 June, according to The Times.
The change is expected to be made to allow restaurants, pubs, theatres and cinemas to reopen at full capacity for the first time in 15 months.
It is understood that there will be strict rules on ventilation at venues and cinemas will have staggered entry times, and audience members will be required to wear a mask during performances.
A spokesman for the UK Cinema Association indicated that the organisation hopes face coverings will not be a continued requirement.
He said: “We strongly believe that our exemplary record on safety – with not a single case of Covid traced back to a UK venue – and our ability to manage the movement of cinema-goers in modern, highly ventilated indoor environments offer ample evidence that any relaxation from June 21 can be undertaken safely without the need for further ongoing restrictions, including any requirement for face coverings.”
As for pubs and restaurants, it is thought that these venues will have to keep one-way systems in place, along with screens to help keep infection risks low.
While there will not be a limit on the number of people who can enter a venue, customers are expected to have to wear a face covering when they are not seated.
The news comes after the government’s scientific advisors admitted that the risk of catching coronavirus in a pub or restaurant is “relatively low”, with only 226 outbreaks linked to these venues throughout the pandemic so far.
A series of pilot events, including a club event held in Liverpool over the weekend, are being held to gather data on how gatherings can ahead safely as restrictions ease.
As part of the national Events Research Programme, Wembley welcomed 8,000 fans on 25 April for the Carabao Cup final between Tottenham and Manchester City.
The evidence from the test events is so far "very positive", according to a government insider, who told The Times: “The general background on data is hugely encouraging in terms of numbers, falling deaths and hospitalisations.
"The pilots have shown us that mitigations have worked sufficiently to allow us to remove social distancing at least in the settings that we really need to in order to get them in a viable position again.
"The kind of thing we’re looking at is keeping in place mask wearing, extra ventilation, staggered entry — all of that has been shown to have worked so far."
What did the Prime Minister say?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is a “good chance” the one-metre plus rule for social distancing can be ditched from next month, but the final decision would depend on the data.
Mr Johnson said he feels like the next stage of reopening on 17 May, which covers indoor hospitality, entertainment and possibly foreign travel, “is going to be good”.
Speaking during a campaign visit to Hartlepool, Mr Johnson told reporters: “As things stand, and the way things are going, with the vaccine rollout going the way that it is – we have done 50 million jabs as I speak to you today, quarter of the adult population, one in four have had two jabs.
“You are seeing the results of that really starting to show up in the epidemiology.
“I think that we will be able to go ahead, feels like May 17 is going to be good.
“But it also looks to me as though June 21 we’ll be able to say social distancing as we currently have to do it, the one-metre plus, I think we have got a good chance of being able to dispense with the one-metre plus from June 21.
“That is still dependent on the data, we can’t say it categorically yet, we have got to look at the epidemiology as we progress, we have got to look at where we get to with the disease. But that’s what it feels like to me right now.”
What about face masks?
Last month, government scientific advisers said the public should be able to remove face masks over the summer as vaccines do the heavy lifting in controlling the virus, but they cautioned that masks and possibly other measures may be needed next autumn and winter if cases surge.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday (2 May) that some coronavirus restrictions will remain beyond 21 June, and that “conditions, counteracts and safeguards” would need to stay, which could include the rules on wearing face coverings.
It is understood that face masks may still have to be worn in some cases to mitigate the risk of infection.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Raab said: "We want to get to a position at the end of June where we can get life back to as normal as possible, but there need to be some safeguards in place."
When pressed what additional measures might still be needed, he replied: "It will be around distancing maybe, there will be something around masks, but I don't want to prejudge it."
Experts have previously said that face masks could become the “new normal”, with some claiming they may have to be until next year due to the risk of new coronavirus variants.
Mr Raab has urged caution in the “last lap” of the battle against Covid, as there is still a “little bit more time left” before the final stage of the lockdown roadmap on 21 June.
His warning comes amid calls to end lockdown restrictions earlier than planned due to the falling case rates and deaths, but he argued that “steady steps” are still needed over the next few months.
Speaky to Sky's Sophy Ridge on Sunday (2 May), he said: "I know that people are hankering to go a bit faster, but actually we feel vindicated at taking steady steps out of the lockdown is the smart way to go.
"We're very close now to really turning the corner and I think we still need to be careful to go as I said we don't want to see the gains lost and the sacrifices that have been made undone.
"By the time we get to June 21 almost all social restrictions will be lifted so there's only a little bit more time to go, but it's right to make sure we do that in a careful way."
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