2m 'social distancing' will be optional if other precautions in place

No hot desking or shared pens and staggered start times – but firms will NOT have to enforce 2m ‘social distancing’ as long as they can show they are keeping staff safe, according to leaked draft of lockdown ‘exit strategy’ to be revealed Sunday

  • Boris Johnson is delaying unveiling the government’s coronavirus exit strategy from Thursday until Sunday
  • Leaked draft suggests companies will not always be obliged to enforce two metre social distancing rules 
  • There will be flexibility if other protections are put in place such as screens and tough hygiene processes 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Road map for exiting coronavirus lockdown 

A leaked draft has revealed more details of the shape of the next phase of coronavirus curbs – due to be unveiled by Boris Johnson on Sunday. 

Key points include: 

  • Flexibility around the two metre ‘social distancing’ rule as long as firms are taking other steps to protect workers.
  • Installing screens, strict hygiene procedures, and ensuring people are not close together very long are touted as alternative safeguards. 
  • Offices will be ordered to overhaul their rotas, staggering start, finish and break times.
  • Hot desking will need to end and sharing equipment kept to an absolute minimum. 
  • Staff considered vulnerable who cannot work from home should be put in the ‘safest possible roles’. 

Businesses will not have to enforce two-metre ‘social distancing’ rules when coronavirus lockdown eases – as long as they can show they are keeping staff safe.

The shape of the ‘road map’ out of the crippling restrictions has started to emerge, with a leaked draft suggesting it will recognise that keeping gaps between workers is not always possible.

Instead companies will be advised they can take other precautions such as installing screens and imposing strict hygiene procedures.

Meanwhile, offices will be told to overhaul their rotas to minimise risks by staggering arrival, break and departure times, ending hot desking and avoiding sharing equipment. 

Boris Johnson is expected to unveil the exit strategy in an address to the nation on Sunday, having delayed the announcement from Thursday as frantic work continues in Whitehall. 

Ministers have been under massive pressure to set out the way forward, with the draconian current curbs estimated to be costing the country £2billion a day.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News that that protective screens and ensuring people were not close together for very long could reduce the need for strict distancing. 

‘You can look at shielding, you can look at how long you stay near people. The two-metre rule reduces the possibility of infection by a certain amount of time,’ he said.

‘If you halve that it still keeps people away from being infected but for a lesser time. The probability of being infected is much less.

‘I think there are options about how we can do it. You can wear PPE, that could be a possibility if you have to be in close proximity or indeed you could find other ways of doing it.’

He pointed towards supermarket workers working behind ‘shields’. 

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a SAGE member and head of the Wellcome Trust, said there was ‘nothing magical’ about the tw metre advice, and it was based on long-standing evidence about how far coughs and sneezes were likely to travel.

‘There is nothing magical about two metres,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘Perhaps more importantly is the time you spend near someone else.’ 

In other developments in the coronavirus crisis 

  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a package of support worth almost £3billion to help universities weather the coronavirus crisis; 
  • A smartphone app to trace the spread of coronavirus will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week before being rolled out more widely later this month; 
  • A new ‘fast and accurate’ coronavirus antibody test has been developed by scientists in Edinburgh, although the company fears the NHS could miss out amid interest in Europe for the machines; 
  • Heathrow Airport has warned travellers could face queues a kilometre long to board flights;  
  • Former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King has assembled a group of experts to look at how the UK could work its way out of the lockdown in response to concerns over the ‘lack of transparency’ coming from the Sage group of advisers.

Boris Johnson (pictured arriving at Downing Street this morning) is expected to unveil the exit strategy in an address to the nation on Sunday, having delayed the announcement from Thursday as frantic work continues in Whitehall

Customers maintain social distancing as they wait to enter a supermarket in north London yesterday

Mr Johnson will describe the race to develop a coronavirus vaccine as the ‘most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes’ later as he calls on nations to ‘pull together’ in response to the pandemic.

The Prime Minister is expected to tell an online pledging conference – co-hosted by the UK and eight other countries and organisations – that the sooner states share their expertise the faster scientists will succeed in defeating the disease.

It comes as Mr Johnson revealed he feared he would not live to see his baby son Wilfred born when he battled Covid-19 in intensive care last month.

The PM will tell the conference, which aims to bring in more than £6.6billion in funding, that the race to develop a vaccine is ‘not a competition between countries but the most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes’.

‘It’s humanity against the virus – we are in this together and together we will prevail,’ he is expected to say.

Coronavirus has claimed more than 246,000 lives around the world, according to analysis by John Hopkins University.

A total of 28,446 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday. 

Meanwhile, the government is facing fresh pressure over testing, after the daily number slumped to 76,496 – below the 100,000 target. 

Cabinet minister Michael Gove told the daily Downing Street press conference last night: ‘Ultimately, unless and until we have a vaccine then I suspect that we are going to have to live with some degree of constraint because of the nature of the virus.

‘But we obviously want to, wherever possible, and consistent with the measures on public health, restore people’s lives to as close to normal as possible.’

He said the Government will pursue a ‘phased approach’ to removing lockdown restrictions rather than a sudden return to ‘the old normal’ – and that the easing had to be done in a ‘cautious fashion’.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News that the two metre rule could be more flexible

 

 

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