Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

COVID-19: England may scrap social distancing next month – Boris Johnson

NEWS DIGEST – England could see its one metre social distancing rule scrapped from next month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

He was visiting a northern England town ahead of a by-election on Thursday when he was asked about how well the nation was doing at combatting the Coronavirus (COVID-19) since restrictions were loosened on April 12.

He told reporters that Britain had just given 50 million coronavirus jabs to people living in the four nations and said it was likely England would be able to further loosen restrictions in the weeks ahead.

“It also looks to me as though from June 21…we have got a good chance of being able to dispense with the one-metre plus from June 21,” he said.

A return to unrestricted trading for British hospitality from June 21 is “critical” and will mean firms can “come off life support”, an industry chief also said.

British media reports echoed Johnson’s comments and said social distancing rules will be ditched next month to allow pubs, restaurants and theatres to open to full capacity for the first time in more than a year following the coronavirus pandemic.

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

On Sunday, British 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 British summer as vaccines do the heavy lifting in controlling COVID-19 – but they cautioned that masks and possibly other measures may be needed later in the year if cases surge.

Responding to the report in The Times, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said: “These reports are very welcome if true.

“However, we must wait to see the full detail of plans as any restrictions in venues will continue to impact revenue and business viability.

“A return to unrestricted trading on June 21 is critical and will mean hospitality businesses (can) come off life support and be viable for the first time in almost 16 months.

“We urge the government to confirm reopening dates and these plans at the earliest opportunity, which will boost confidence and allow companies to step up planning and bring staff back.”

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

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.

Meanwhile British MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus have urged the Government to “discourage all international leisure travel” amid concerns around the danger of importing new variants to Britain, which they said could “lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life”.

The chief executive of travel firm Thomas Cook, Alan French, said there has been “great progress” in countries such as Portugal and Spain in preparing for the return of holidaymakers and that he expects most popular destinations, particularly in Europe, to be open to travellers.

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.

PA Media/dpa/NAN