Good chance ‘one-metre plus’ rule can be ditched on June 21, says Johnson

Aine Fox and Catherine Wylie, PA
·6-min read

There is a “good chance” the one-metre plus rule for social distancing can be ditched next month, Boris Johnson said.

The final decision on whether the change can be brought in from June 21 will depend on the data, the Prime Minister added.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, meanwhile, expressed certainty over a “great British summer” ahead as he confirmed that a total of 50 million Covid-19 jabs have been given out across the UK.

It comes as the Government said one further person had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total to 127,539.

However, there is always a lag in reporting deaths – greater at weekends and bank holidays – and the latest figures do not mean that only one death has occurred in the past 24 hours.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 1,649 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

Mr Johnson said he feels like the next stage of reopening on May 17 – which covers indoor hospitality, entertainment and possibly foreign travel – “is going to be good”.

Industry chiefs described a return to unrestricted trading for hospitality from June 21 as “vital” and “critical”.

Their comments came as The Times reported social distancing rules will be lifted to allow pubs, restaurants and theatres to open to full capacity for the first time in more than a year.

One-way systems, screens and mask-wearing while moving around might remain for hospitality venues but customer numbers will no longer be limited, the newspaper said.

Audiences in theatres and cinemas will have to wear face coverings during performances, while there will be strict guidance on ventilation and staggered entry, The Times reported.

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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.”

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In a video posted on Twitter, Mr Hancock said: “Seems like only yesterday that Margaret Keenan was getting the first clinically authorised vaccine in the world and now we’ve delivered 50 million.

“And this is so important of course because it is a life-saving vaccine that helps protect you, helps protect those around you, and it is our route out of this pandemic.

“And it’s because of the vaccination programme that we’re able to keep going down this road map, and I know we’re going to have a great British summer.”

On Sunday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “some safeguards” may stay in place when legal restrictions end, such as continued use of masks and physical distancing.

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 Covid-19 – but they cautioned that masks and possibly other measures may be needed next autumn and winter if cases surge.

The British Beer and Pub Association, said Mr Johnson’s comments “give our sector hope of a return to normality and viability on June 21st”.

Chief executive Emma McClarkin said that “being able to reopen without any restrictions at all from June 21st is going to be vital” for the survival of pubs.

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.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman pointed back to the wording of the road map out of lockdown, which states that the Government “will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission”.

Customers enjoy a drink at the reopening of the Figure of Eight pub in Birmingham
The British Beer and Pub Association wants a return to normality on June 21 (Jacob King/PA)

The review’s findings “will help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on one-metre-plus, face masks and other measures may be lifted”.

It comes as the Government announced the limit on the number of mourners who can attend funerals is to be lifted in England.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the legal restriction of a maximum of 30 mourners will be removed as part of the next stage of lockdown easing, expected on May 17.

The capacity will be determined by how many people venues, such as places of worship or funeral homes, can safely accommodate while maintaining social distancing, the department added.

The ban on foreign holidays is expected to be lifted for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.

But Mr Johnson has cautioned that while there will be “some openings up” from that date, the approach must be “sensible” to avoid an “influx of disease” when international travel resumes.