Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced significant relaxations to the rules on social distancing, designed to make it possible for businesses in sectors including hospitality to reopen, as part of what he called ‘the next steps to rebuilding the economy’ as the threat of coronavirus recedes
Addressing the House of Commons, Johnson said a period of ‘national hibernation’ was coming to an end, and he expected to see many businesses reopening.
From 4 July the two metre social distancing rule, which had been part of legislation, will be amended to what he called guidance, and a new option called ‘one metre plus’ will be introduced.
Johnson said: ‘It has been impossible for large parts of the economy, including all but a fraction of the hospitality industry, to operate with a two metre distance rule.’
Instead, where it is not possible for a business to maintain a two metre distance, companies will be able to use a one metre plus approach, whereby individuals must stay a metre apart and adopt other preventative measures.
The government is to publish guidance for specific sectors on how businesses can reduce the risks for their workers and customers when they re-open from 4 July, but Johnston indicated that requirements will include:
- avoiding face-to-face seating in office layouts;
- reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces;
- improved ventilation;
- protective screens and face coverings;
- hand sanitiser; and
- changes to shift patterns so that people work in set teams.
Johnson said there would be specific requirements for some businesses. So, for example, in the hospitality sector pubs would need to offer table service to people sitting inside, while hairdressers would need to use visors.
The prime minister admitted that some sectors where customers are in ‘close proximity’ would not be able to open on 4 July. These include night clubs, soft play areas, swimming pools, spas, bowling alleys, waterparks and arts venues.
Johnson announced that the government is to set up a series of taskforces, including public health experts, to work with these sectors on ways to become ‘covid safe’. Currently there is no timeline for when they will be able to operate.
‘Our restaurants, pubs, bars and hotels are struggling. Health comes first, but the lack of a clear action plan from government is a concern’, said Russell Nathan, senior partner at accountancy firm HW Fisher.
Nathan added: ‘Many in the hospitality industry will welcome today’s announcements. It’s been a long time coming and if this step had not been taken, we would have seen a huge number of immediate redundancies.
‘It is vital we see the hospitality industry back up and running, as it has a huge part to play in the economic recovery of the country. This is a step in the right direction, but there is more to do. government must consider additional measures to help the save the UK hospitality industry.’
Johnson stated: ‘As we have seen in other countries, there will be flare ups for which equal measures will be needed.
‘And we will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reintroduce restrictions, even at national level, if required.
‘So I urge everyone to stay alert, control the virus, and save lives.’