What is the price of two metre social distancing?

At the government's daily coronavirus briefing, I asked whether the two metre social distancing rule would be reduced, as the Prime Minister had seemed to imply on Wednesday he would favour.

The Chief Scientific Advisor to the government, Sir Patrick Vallance, also said research published - and soon to be published - would allow flexibility for businesses like pubs, theatres and restaurants (eg. back-to-back sitting can be safe at much less than two metres).

In stark contrast, the government's Chief Medical Advisor Professor Chris Whitty, stressed that unless we keep a strict two metre distance from people, we run a significantly increased risk of being ordered to quarantine for 14 days under the new test, trace and isolate rules.

That creates a massive disincentive for us to go back to cafes and pubs, if in July we are allowed to do so.

And offices and factories will find it that much harder to reconfigure working arrangements to comply with social distancing rules.

Obviously, public health is the priority, but whether we stick to our mandatory two metre distance or move closer to the World Health Organization's recommended one metre will determine whether vast numbers of businesses go bust, jobs and tax revenues are lost, and income is gone forever.

The painful paradox, captured by this debate over two metres versus one metre, is that the more that coronavirus prophylaxis deepens our economic contraction, the more deprivation there'll be and the more lives will be cut short by poverty.

Weighing the trade-offs may be hugely complicated, but is literally a matter of life and death.