In Brief

Boris Johnson hints Britain’s pubs could open ‘sooner than July’

Prime minister ‘optimistic’ that bars may reopen with reduced social distancing restrictions

The reopening of UK pubs may be pushed forward to next month under new plans aimed at helping struggling hospitality businesses by easing social distancing rules.

Pubs, hotels and restaurants are scheduled to remain closed until at least 4 July under the government’s roadmap to ending the coronavirus lockdown. But Boris Johnson has raised hopes that, as The Sun puts it, “thirsty Brits could be back boozing” in beer gardens much sooner.

Addressing the Commons Liaison Committee on Wednesday, the prime minister revealed that he has asked the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to review whether the two-metre social distancing rule could be cut to one metre.

“On hospitality… we are really trying to go as fast as we can,” he told MPs. “It is very difficult to bring forward hospitality measures in a way that involves social distancing. But I'm much more optimistic about that than I was. We may be able to do things faster than I had previously thought.”

Johnson noted that the current Sage advice says there is “a very considerable reduction in risk at two metres”.

But he added: “My own hope is that as we make progress in getting the virus down, in reducing the incidence, that we will be able to reduce that distance, which I think will be particularly valuable in transport and clearly the hospitality sector.”

The PM announced the policy review after being pressed by former business secretary Greg Clark about rethinking the distance.

Clark has previously “pointed out that the UK is an outlier at sticking to two metres, as many countries - including Hong Kong, Singapore, France and China - now say one metre apart is enough”, reports Politics Home.

There is “no internationally agreed position on the safe distance”, although the World Health Organization recommends one metre, says The Times. A change to UK guidelines would require “an overhaul of the test-and-trace operation”, the newspaper adds.

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Despite such potential complications, the medical director of Public Health England, Professor Yvonne Doyle, has also suggested that the UK guidance could change. 

She told the Science and Technology Select Committee last week that the UK had taken a “cautionary” approach when introducing the rule but that “we are aware of the requirements of the economy and business”.

The proposed change has been welcomed by Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), who has warned that unless social distancing restrictions are cut to one metre, two-thirds of pub jobs could be lost.

“It is vital that the government allows pubs to re-open under those safe conditions in July, so that they can operate at a sustainable level and become pillars of the community once more,” McClarkin said.

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