Boris Johnson has set up a review into the two-metre distancing rule in what is being seen as a first step towards relaxing the requirement ahead of a return of hospitality businesses.
Reducing the distance will be vital for pubs and restaurants if they are to approach any kind of sustainable turnover levels. At two-metre distancing operators say they could only make 35% of previous turnover, while at one-metre the potential increases to around 65%.
Speaking on Sky News, chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "The prime minister has put in place a comprehensive review of the two-metre rule.
"Now we have made good progress in suppressing the virus, we're at a different stage of the epidemic than we were at the beginning, and that enables us to take a fresh look at this.
"Obviously many other countries around the world use a different rule. We have seen a couple of countries recently – Norway and Denmark – have moved from two metres to something less."
Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson visited Westfield Stratford in London yesterday and said that, with data showing one person in 1,700 people is infected, there might be "some more margin for manoeuvre".
Last week Oakman Inns chief executive Peter Borg-Neil said that if the two-metre distancing rule was maintained, "many pubs wound never reopen".
He added: "For us, it would mean we'd be able to open some, but it would be subeconomic. We really need it to get closer to one metre for it to make any sense."
Meanwhile Brett Graham permanently closed two-Michelin-starred restaurant the Ledbury in London's Notting Hill last week, saying that even one-metre distancing rules would be "unworkable".
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told The Caterer that a reduction in social distancing to one metre was "key to a viable restart".
She said: "If the science says it is safe to do so, this reduction would be a huge boost for the hospitality sector and prove critical to the survival of the vast majority of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs."
Even if the distancing is reduced, the government and operators will have to work hard to reassure a wary public that it is safe to visit hospitality environments. Ministers are keen for any changes to be backed by chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Chris Whitty to help reinforce the message that going out for dinner will be safe.
Brewdog chief operating officer David McDowall told The Caterer that the whole industry must work together to promote hospitality operations as a welcoming and safe place to spend time.
"We need to create an aggressive campaign to make sure we change the tone of the conversation from complete fear and lockdown into retail, leisure and hospitality being safe environments to be in," he said.
"The reality is that safe, licensed, highly regulated environments where you can have a beer outside are far safer in the midst of a public health crisis that just letting everyone do their own thing and drink in the park."
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