Two-metre review days away as ministers think up new normal for pubs with hopes drinkers will swap bar for apps
A review of the two metre social distancing rule is days away as ministers try to think up a new normal for pubs ahead of their planned reopening on July 4 in England.
With the coronavirus alert level having been reduced on Friday, the prime minister believes he has some space to relax measures in a boost for the sector.
Many pubs say the two metre rule must be reduced to one if they, along with cafes, restaurants and hotels, are to reopen in two weeks time.
Drinkers would be encouraged to order pints on smart phone apps and pubs could be patrolled to ensure social-distancing measures are enforced under plans to ease the lockdown for the hospitality sector.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Radio 4 that the review the PM ordered into the two-metre social distancing rule would be concluded “within the coming days”, while Whitehall officials confirmed the outcome is expected next week.
Many pubs have been coming up with innovative ways to serve alcohol while sticking to the lockdown rules, but they say their premises are too small for a full reopening without a reduction in the rule.
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Guidance drawn up by the sector and ministers is understood to encourage pubgoers to order drinks using apps instead of going to the bar, while current legislation was said to include the powers for patrols.
The Times reported that restaurant tables would not be set in advance and room service would be left outside doors in hotels under the guidance.
It was being stressed that decisions on further easings were yet to be made, but the PM said the lowering of the alert level from four to three allows ministers to “start making some progress” on social-distancing measures.
And he promised new guidance for the hospitality sector and businesses “very shortly”.
The downgrading – recommended by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) – means transmission of coronavirus is no longer considered to be “high or rising exponentially”.
Localised outbreaks of Covid-19 are still “likely” to occur, the advisers warned, and the virus remains in general circulation.
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Boris Johnson also told the public on Friday to “watch this space” when asked whether the distance restriction could be reduced to help schools in England return in autumn.
He has been under significant pressure from Conservatives to relax the distance and on Friday night former business secretary Greg Clark said evidence from other nations is “lower social distancing has worked”.
“It’s important we should benefit, it seems to me, from the experiences of others in this,” the Tory MP told BBC Newsnight.
Government scientific advisers have said they would be comfortable with a reduced distance if risk-mitigating measures were taken, such as people sitting side by side and wearing face coverings.
The PM also said it is his intention that children of all ages in England should be able to return to school on a five-days-a-week basis in September.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested that primary school class sizes of 15, known as “bubbles”, could be expanded back to their normal size to allow more children back in the classroom.
At the Downing Street daily briefing, Mr Williamson said he wanted all year groups to return to school “full-time” in September, adding that further guidance on safety measures will be published in the next two weeks.
The comments came as the Government’s £1 billion plan to help pupils catch up with learning came under fire from education leaders.
Head teachers said they were not consulted on the details of the scheme, which will see the most disadvantaged children in England given access to funds to pay for tutors while the majority of the funding will be shared across schools to help pupils from all backgrounds affected by the lockdown.
College and nursery leaders have criticised the Government for leaving their pupils out after it announced that £650 million would only be given to state primary and secondary schools for the 2020-21 academic year.
A further £350 million will be spent on a one-year subsidised national tutoring programme targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils in schools.
Sector leaders say the funding will not reach young children in nurseries and college students who are most “in need of support” amid the pandemic.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford was planning to end its five-mile restriction on travel next month and allow holidaymakers to return a week later.
And in Northern Ireland, most pupils are set for a return to education in the autumn after ministers agreed to cut the social distancing measure to one metre.