The chancellor Rishi Sunak has this weekend hinted the two-metre social distancing rule could be relaxed in England as the prime minister prepares to announce changes.
Boris Johnson is expected to make an announcement this week on pubs, cafes, restaurants and hotels – with their reopening in England hoped to take place on July 4 – and it could also mean car dealers can restart accompanied test drives.
The result of the PM’s review is expected in the coming days, but the chancellor has strongly signalled it will allow the government to ease the measure in England.
Sunak said: ‘The outcome of that review will be announced this week. Obviously that’s something that will make an enormous difference I think to many businesses who are keen to see a change.
‘Obviously we need to go through that review, but I’m very understanding of the calls for action on that, particularly for our hospitality industry, for our pubs, for our restaurants, (they) are keen to see if there’s some change that can be made there.’
Car dealers have implemented social distancing rules across their businesses, but have been unable to carry out accompanied test drives due to the two metre rule.
They are allowed to offer these unaccompanied on trade plates, following a relaxing of the rules by the DVLA, however many dealers have struggled to get insurance to cover this.
One dealer, Rory RSC, in the Car Dealer Forum said: ‘Personally, I’m not offering test drives at the moment. Our insurance cost for unaccompanied was very high.
‘I am simply not comfortable with letting people loose in high powered vehicles or nice, well-prepped cars alone.’
It is thought the easing of restrictions to one metre could allow accompanied test drives to take place again, if not in the passenger seat alongside the customer, but perhaps from the back seat. Cars would need to be well ventilated and it is likely masks would need to be worn if dealers choose to offer them.
However, car dealers we have spoken to today said that even if the changes would technically make a difference they’d still be worried about the health and safety of staff.
Sean Kelly, managing director of Vines BMW, told Car Dealer: ‘I think this would make it feasible, but not yet advisable.
‘There are still more than 1,000 new daily cases in the UK, so being in a tight enclosed space with another person cannot be in the best interests of our staff or customers at this point in the reopening of the economy.’
Independent dealer and chairman of the Independent Motor Dealers Association Umesh Samani agreed.
He said: ‘To me, regardless of the government changing to a one-metre rule, I feel there is still a possibility of the virus out there and will continue with unaccompanied test drives for the foreseeable future – customers love it, as it builds trust.’
With the coroanvirus alert level having been reduced from four to three, plans to allow the hospitality sector to reopen are beginning to emerge too – an industry that hinges on the two-metre rule being relaxed.
The Times said it had been leaked the government guidance and reported:
- Limits on the number of punters allowed into pubs, where tables would be spaced out and glasses would be collected from tables, while bar tops and door handles would be cleaned at least hourly.
- Restaurants would be required to place strict limits on the number of diners and would be encouraged to stagger reservations.
- Hotel room service would see staff leave trays outside guests’ doors and if they fall ill the customer would be asked to self-isolate in their room, which would be cordoned off for 72 hours after their recovery.
- Gyms and swimming pools would require receptionists use clickers to count numbers going in and booking systems would be put in place to prevent overcrowding.
One expert informing the government’s response to the pandemic as part of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) said he had revised his opposition to reducing the two-metre rule now transmission is low.
The University of Liverpool’s Professor Calum Semple told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I’m still saying two metres is safer than one but in my opinion it is now a reasonable political decision to relax these rules.’
In other developments this weekend, it is believed the government is expected to make an announcement on the next phase of its coronavirus border controls next week after imposing a 14-day quarantine on all new entrants.
Spain has said it would ‘freely’ welcome Britons without the need to quarantine there from today, in a call for the UK to reciprocate and form a so-called air bridge.
Plans to further ease the lockdown emerged as the Department of Health and Social Care announced an extra 128 deaths of people who have tested positive for Covid-19. The total number of deaths involving coronavirus in the UK is thought to have passed 53,000.
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