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Minister Contradicts Boris Johnson Over Reducing Social Distancing in Restaurants

Housing minister Simon Clarke says the government is “determined” to keep two-metre rule in place

A London dining room with tables marked out for coronavirus social distancing Jolene/Instagram

U.K. housing minister Simon Clarke has contradicted prime minister Boris Johnson on a potential reduction in coronavirus social distancing rules which would benefit restaurants, pubs, and bars. As reported by Big Hospitality, Clarke told Sky News’s Kay Burley that the government is “determined” to keep the restriction in place, reiterating that “we’re not doing this arbitrarily.”

Last week, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Liaison Committee that he was “optimistic” that restaurants might open sooner than he thought. That could have meant either before 4 July, which is a moveable date for some venues, or much later, given previous guidance on venues “crowded by design” needing to open further into the year. He also said that he hoped for the two-metre social distancing rule to be relaxed, which would necessarily improve restaurant optimism if it were to happen.

That relaxation would economically benefit restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars, all of which have cited social distancing measures as one of the biggest obstacles to longterm recovery. That doesn’t mean it’s a viable public health strategy. While very new research in medical journal The Lancet credits one metre social distancing with reducing transmission by 82 percent, the same research says that protection doubles at two metres, and does not account for the extended time that would be spent in a restaurant, pub, or bar. With the government’s coronavirus guidance for restaurants consistently inconsistent, expect doubts like these to persist through the remainder of lockdown.