The UK Government is coming under increasing pressure from senior Conservative MPs, businesses owners and The UK’s Musicians’ Union to relax its social distancing rule from two metres in order to make the resumption of normal public life easier.
The UK, Spain and Canada currently have the furthest social distancing guidelines, of 2 metres, while China, Hong Kong, Denmark, France, Lithuania and Singapore have a shorter distance of 1 metre. Meanwhile, Australia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal have adopted a compromise between the two with 1.5 metres. South Korea on the other-hand believe 1.4 metres suffices, and the United States sees a 1.8-metre gap as sufficient to prevent the spread of this contagious virus.
The Chair of the Commons Scientific Committee, the Conservative MP Greg Clark, wrote to the Prime Minister on May 30th asking for SAGE (The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) to review the UK’s 2-metre rule, to ‘clarify the rationale’ behind it and explain ‘why the guidance in the UK differs from so many international comparators’. This comes after the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stuck firm to its advice that a distance of one metre between members of two separate households would suffice to prevent Covid-19 from spreading to others. However, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty has reaffirmed it is ‘really important’ that people should stay 2 metres away from each other. He has cited research from the 1930s that most cough or sneeze droplets would fall between one and two metres when released and that longer distances between people would reduce the risk of the virus’ direct transmission.
Mr Clark has supported the prospect of reducing the distance from 2 metres to 1.5 metres arguing, it could ‘be the difference between people being able to go to work and losing their jobs’. This has been supported by former Chancellor and Conservative Peer, Lord Norman Lamont who stated the retention of a two-metre gap could cause ‘huge problems’ for the hospitality sector. These comments echo those of Chief Executive of UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls, who stated the distance should be reduced to the W.H.O’s preferred distance of one metre and the retention of a 2-metre gap would be ‘the difference between opening at 30% of normal revenues or 60% with 1m social distancing’. SAGE and the Prime Minister has also reaffirmed their commitment to the two-metre gap, reporting that being exposed to the virus for six seconds at one metre is comparable to a one-minute exposure at 2 metres, stating that 2 metres are a ‘good measure’ of the distance where the risk of person-to-person transmission drops significantly.
The Labour-affiliated Musicians’ Union has also called for a relaxation of the two-metre gap, arguing it was ‘overkill’ in a ‘bleak time’ for its members. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant pubs, clubs, theatres and indoor music venues remain closed for the foreseeable future. The leader of the Union, Horace Trubridge, has argued musicians in orchestras could play ‘side by side’ to lessen the potential spread of the virus. Stating it would be unnecessary for string and percussion instrumentalists to adhere to the current guidelines while singers could wear masks doing performances. Many musicians had been earning £20,000 a year before the pandemic, and have missed out on furlough payments, meaning desperately wanting to get back to work as soon as possibly safe to do so.
The Union also proposed the introduction of ‘enhanced busking’ allowing spectators to watch and listen to performances in outdoor spaces and for them to make contactless payments for individual and group performances. They have argued that while it is difficult to see the possibility of social distancing being eased for audiences and the reopening of theatres and venues in the foreseeable future, this is not the case for performers. A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson stated, in response to these proposals, that ‘We welcome creative and innovative ideas on how we can support our talented musicians.’
The Prime Minister has, however, stood firm under this pressure. He has taken to Facebook and Twitter to reaffirm that if up to six people do meet up on the weekend commencing the 6th of June, they should only so in an outside setting and with a gap of ‘2 metres’ between all people. Only time will tell as to whether or not this commitment to the longest social distancing measurements in the world will significantly help or hamper public health, the UK’s economy and business’ ability to successfully re-open in the short to medium future.