Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “optimistic” that pubs and restaurants could open sooner than he previously thought. Answering questions from House of Commons liaison committee yesterday afternoon, he also said that the two-metre social distancing rule was under official review.
Johnson was not explicit about whether that meant earlier than the 4th July date set in the latest official government guidelines. According to those guidelines, that date has been set as the earliest pubs and restaurants could begin to reopen, but that for many “crowded venues” it could be later.
“It is really difficult to bring forward hospitality measures in a way that involves social distancing,” Johnson said. “But I am much more optimistic about that than I was. We may be able to do things faster than I previously thought.”
The government’s reopening guidance states:
“Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely [from 4 July], or may be able to open safely only in part.”
Johnson’s optimism is predicated on a proposed changed to the two-metre social distancing rule which has been in place since the beginning of lockdown, and remains among the major obstacles to a restaurant’s ability to reopen safely.
Conservative MP Greg Clark, chair of the science and technology committee, asked whether the current social distancing rule could be reviewed and relaxed. Johnson said he hoped the distance could reduced, specifically citing pubs and restaurants as benefiting from that review. This week and last, pubs have been campaigning for the social distancing rules to be reduced to one metre.
“My own hope is that as we make progress in getting the virus down, in reducing the incidence, we will be able to reduce that distance, which I think will be particularly valuable in transport and clearly the hospitality sector,” Johnson told Clark.
Much might also depend on the ability of restaurants to optimise outdoor space, since research has shown that transmission of COVID-19 in the open air is much lower than inside. Last week, communities secretary Robert Jenrick indicated that the government was planning to relax laws and give restaurants the ability to trade outside their premises. The Prime Minister also said on Tuesday evening that markets would be able to reopen from next week, which adds to the sense that food businesses could be permitted to trade safely outdoors this summer