Matt Hancock today said ministers are trying to thrash out a replacement for the two-metre rule – after the government’s chief suggested lower distances can be ‘managed’.
The Health Secretary refused to say when the review of the draconian restrictions will be complete, despite a mounting revolt from Tory MPs and business over the damage it is wreaking.
He said in a round of interviews: ‘The question is what to replace it with, as well as when to make the change.’
Sir Patrick Vallance suggested that he will not oppose a relaxation at the Downing Street briefing last night.
He stressed that two metres was ‘safer than one metre’, but said there was no ‘absolute’ rule – and pointed to the dwindling probability that people will be in contact with someone who is contagious.
‘It’s not an absolute, it’s a relative, and obviously the closer you get the riskier it is, so it’s a risk assessment… I don’t think two metres is some sort of absolute cut-off that never changes,’ he said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to say when the review of the two-metre rule will be complete, despite a mounting revolt from Tory MPs and business over the damage it is wreaking
He added that as the incidence rate gets smaller ‘you can start to think about ways in which you can manage the distance in certain circumstances in different ways’.
Boris Johnson told the briefing: ‘We are keeping it under constant review… Watch this space because we absolutely hear you.’
Hospitality and other sectors have been calling for the two-metre guidance to be eased, saying it will hamper efforts to get up and running again in July.
Underling the threat to the economy, figures yesterday showed UK workers on the payroll plummeted by 600,000 between the start of lockdown and May.
In a sign of the carnage to come, official figures showed the number of paid employees dived 2.1 per cent or 612,000 between March and last month.
The breakneck decline is particularly worrying with the government’s furlough scheme now propping up 9.1million jobs – many of which might never return as UK plc reels from the pandemic.
Chief science adviser Sir Patrick Vallance suggested that he will not oppose a relaxation at the Downing Street briefing last night
An update on the government’s furlough scheme yesterday showed that the number of jobs covered has hit 9.1million
On the two metre rule, Boris Johnson told the No10 briefing: ‘We are keeping it under constant review… Watch this space because we absolutely hear you.’
Jobless claims under Universal Credit have soared by 1.6million – 125.9 per cent – over the same period.
Vacancies showed an eye-watering reduction of 342,000 in March-May compared to the previous quarter – a sharper fall than than the credit crunch.
However, the worst of the hit for workers appears to have been masked by the government’s massive furlough bailout scheme, with experts warning of 1980s levels of unemployment by the end of the year.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We are seeing the impact of coronavirus on our economy, as is the case in many countries.
‘It’s started to show in today’s figures but our extensive support … has protected thousands of businesses and millions of jobs with 6.3million jobs furloughed up to May 3 worth £8billion. We are reopening the economy to get people back to work.’
The grim jobs data emerged as former Tory leader William Hague joined calls from a swathe of MPs for the two-metre rule to be abandoned immediately to save the UK from a complete meltdown.
In an analogy to the famous rescue of thousands of British soldiers from the beaches Dunkirk in France during the Second World Ward, Lord Hague described lockdown as an ‘heroic operation in itself but the result of a massive failure’.
He urged the government to heed calls for testing on a ‘massive scale’ so that social distancing curbs are no longer required.
In the Commons yesterday, Mr Johnson was again challenged by one of his own MPs, Desmond Swayne, on when the distancing would be reduced. ‘I am determined to make life as easy as possible for our retailers, for our hospitality industry, but we must defeat this virus… ‘ he said.
‘The numbers of deaths have massively come down, the number of new hospital admissions have massively come down. We continue to make progress, but we must make sure that we get the virus fully under control before we make the change that he wants.’
Experts believe the full impact of the crisis will not be shown until August at the earliest because of the cushion of the furlough scheme.
The number of employees on payroll has fallen dramatically since the lockdown came in
Vacancies showed an eye-watering reduction of 342,000 in March-May compared to the previous quarter – a sharper fall than than the credit crunch