Government must reinstate 2m social distancing rule if cases soar, says CIEH

23 June 2020, Ross Matthewman

CIEH has urged the Government to consider reinstating the two metre (2m) social distancing rule if it is reduced to one metre and COVID-19 cases soar as a result of easing the lockdown restrictions. CIEH has also called on the Government to redouble efforts to address the current deficiencies in the testing and tracing process which does not seem to be operating efficiently.

With the Prime Minister due to announce further lockdown-easing measures later today, it has been widely reported that this will include reducing the current two metre guidance on social distancing to one metre from 4 July. This is a result of heavy pressure from the hospitality industry who are concerned that the existing restrictions will result in businesses failing.

Whilst recognising the need to balance economic considerations with public health, CIEH has previously warned that reducing the two metre social distancing guidance to one metre could significantly increase onward transmission risks given that the World Health Organization's one metre advice is an absolute minimum, rather than a safe distance.

Evidence published earlier this month by The Lancet also supported calls to maintain the two metre social distancing rule, and further commentary by Professor Andrew Watterson, supports this and reemphasises the need to ensure testing, tracing, and isolation processes and systems, are efficient and fully operational.

The Government’s track and trace programme is far from complete and there are concerns around the capacity of local authorities to manage and undertake local or regional lockdowns.

Debbie Wood, Executive Director for Membership and External Affairs at CIEH said:

"COVID-19 has not gone away and we are concerned that by rushing to reduce the two metre guidance for social distancing in the face of industry pressure the Government may risk a resurgence and possibly a second spike.

Maintaining social distancing within the hospitality industry with alcohol present was going to be difficult enough at two metre. There is a real risk that by reducing the distance to one metre many people will simply view this as the end of social distancing in general.

If the Government does decide to reduce its social distancing guidance to one metre then it must be prepared to swiftly reverse this decision if there is a flare up of cases as a result.

We are also calling on the Government to ensure that local authorities have the necessary resources and powers to manage track and trace and undertake any local lockdowns that are required.

Finally, it is vital that the Government makes it clear that the public must continue to observe social distancing."

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