Boris Johnson has given some hope to hospitality businesses contemplating opening under two-metre distancing by suggesting that the guidance may soon be eased.
Speaking to the Commons liaison committee yesterday, he also said that pubs, restaurants and hotels could be permitted to open sooner than 4 July as the government "may be able to do things faster than I previously thought".
The prime minister confirmed that he had asked the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) to reconsider whether the guidance was appropriate.
He said: "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."
Johnson added: "It is really difficult to bring forward hospitality measures in a way that involves social distancing. But I am much more optimistic about that than I was. We may be able to do things faster than I previously thought."
The comments come as operators called for the adoption of one metre rule, as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in order for them to trade at any reasonable level and maintain safety.
Operators including chef Raymond Blanc, Wagamama chief Andy Hornby and Hospitality Union's Jonathan Downey have said reducing distancing requirements to one metre in line with the WHO recommendations would see more businesses survive the Covid-19 crisis and save "thousands of jobs".
But Johnson cautioned that any reduction was contingent on the advice of the Sage, though he added that it can change as conditions alter, as it did on wearing face masks.
He said: "Their answer is that that is what they feel is the right interval for us. We rely and have done throughout on the guidance we get from our advisers and that is what they think is appropriate at the moment but that may evolve."