When will the 2m rule be relaxed? Social distance to remain in Scotland with some mitigating measures

The First Minister has announced the two-metre rule will remain in Scotland, with some exemptions for specific sectors from next week

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the two metre social distancing rule will remain in place in Scotland, despite Boris Johnson updating guidance to a “one metre plus” rule south of the border.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed the rule will continue in Scotland at her daily briefing on Thursday (2 July), and provided further information on when restrictions will be lifted throughout phase two and phase three of Scotland’s route map out of lockdown.

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Despite dates being revealed for pubs, restaurants and hairdressers to reopen, people must still comply with the two metre social distancing rule until further notice. However, she added that there will now be some exceptions to the rule.

It is feared relaxing the rule would increase the risk of the virus spreadingIt is feared relaxing the rule would increase the risk of the virus spreading
It is feared relaxing the rule would increase the risk of the virus spreading

Why won’t the rule be changed in Scotland?

Ms Sturgeon has said that all of the evidence and advice she has been given recommends keeping the two metre distance in place for the time being.

She said that scientific advice showed that as the distance between people decreases, the risk of coronavirus transmission goes up, with the increase said to be between two and 10 times as much.

However, she noted that the advice also states that as the number of people with the virus falls, there is consuequently a reduced chance coming into contact with someone who has the virus, meaning absolute risk is lower.

An advisory group set up by the Scottish Government to consider the issue concluded it was "ultimately a matter of policy as to what physical distance is tolerated in different environments".

With that in mind, Ms Sturgeon said: "We will continue to advise that, as far as possible, you should remain two metres away from people from other households."

The First Minister said there was a “clear” and “positive” trend in the latest coronavirus figures, which mean it is now safer to ease restrictions. But she stressed that the dates were dependent on the progress made in suppressing the virus.

The hospitality industry had also warned that pubs and restaurants would struggle to recover if the measure remained in place.

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Ms Sturgeon revealed that beer gardens could reopen in Scotland from July 6, while the indoor areas of pubs and restaurants, as well as hairdressers, cinemas and museums could open from July 15.

Has the 2m rule been scrapped in England?

A number of relaxations are due to be implemented across England from 4 July following Boris Johnson’s announcement on June 23, in which he confirmed changes to social distancing rules.

The Prime Minister announced that where the two metre social distancing rule cannot be applied, it will instead be replaced with a “one metre-plus” measure from 4 July.

Mr Johnson acknowledged that the two-metre rule "effectively makes life impossible for large parts of our economy", and some MPs had previously expressed fears that keeping the rule in place would impede recovery.

It is also hoped that an easing of the rule will allow all schools in England to fully reopen by September.

However, Scotland’s chief medical officer has warned against changing the current two metre distance, saying it would increase the risk of the virus spreading.

Dr Gregor Smith insisted that the social distancing guidance is “balanced and sensible”, and is based on the best available scientific advice.

What is the WHO guidance?

The official guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that people should maintain at least a one metre (3 feet) distance from other people.

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Keeping just a one metre distance between other people is considered safe according to WHO guidance, leading several countries to follow the renewed advice.

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet concluded that keeping at least one metre apart from other people could be the best way to limit the chances of infection, with the risk estimated to be 13 per cent within this distance.

The infection risk was only found to increase by three per cent beyond this distance, with the study stating that for every extra metre of distance up to three metres, the risk is further reduced by half.

France, China, Denmark and Singapore are among the countries that are advising people to only keep one metre apart.

Meanwhile Australia, Germany and Italy have a 1.5 metre rule in place, while the US has set the limit at 1.8 metres.

The UK, Canada and Spain are currently still advising people to keep two metres apart, despite fears it could damage the economy by making it difficult for many businesses, including pubs and restaurants, to reopen.

Scotland’s tourism chiefs expressed fears on Wednesday (10 June) that keeping the two metre rule could cost “tens of thousands of jobs” unless it is changed.

The hospitality sector also said it would force many venues to operate at a “completely unviable” 30 per cent of capacity.