People must continue to social distance at a minimum of two metres despite calls for a reduction in the distance, the UK Government has said.
It comes as MPs and business owners have asked the government to reduce the distance to allow places such as theatres, pubs and entertainment venues to reopen.
They argued these venues could suffer under the current rule, which would severely restrict the number of patrons allowed inside and the staff needed.
Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers called for the distance to be reduced in line with some other countries’ rules to save jobs and help the hospitality sector reopen.
Italy’s recommended social distance is just one metre, while Germany and Australia have implemented a 1.5 metre rule.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour on Sunday, Ms Villiers said: “I think we should take comfort from the World Health Organisation that one to two metres is safe and the fact that many other countries have taken the approach of one or 1.5 metres, that demonstrates that can be managed safely.
Referring to the law in Wales that requires companies to practice social distancing, she said: “Indeed the Government’s own advice to employers who are opening up the workplace again is that where two metres can’t be maintained, a closer distance is okay as long as you manage the transmission risk in other ways.”
Following the calls, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had asked members of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) to review the guidance.
On Tuesday (June 2), Number 10 said the Government believes the two-metre rule should remain in place.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We continue to keep all of these matters under review but the current guidance is that the two-metre rule should remain in place.”
It comes after a new study suggested physical distancing of at least one metre lowers the risk of coronavirus transmission, but distances of two metres could be more effective.
Researchers found that keeping a distance of more than one metre from other people was associated with a much lower risk of infection compared with less than one metre.
The risk of infection when people stand more than a metre away from the infected individual was found to be 3%, and 13% if within a metre.
However, according to the analysis published in The Lancet, modelling suggests for every extra metre further away up to three metres, the risk of infection or transmission may halve.
On release of this study, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) said it was of “vital” importance that the two-metre distance remains as more businesses prepare to open.
The professional body, which represents those who work in environmental health roles such as in the food, housing and transport industries, urged the Government to maintain the two-metre guidance especially as “riskier” businesses including pubs prepare to open.
CIEH Wales director Kate Thompson said: “The World Health Organisation advice for distances of at least one metre to be maintained, to prevent the spread of coronavirus, has led to strong pressure from certain industries to reduce social distancing between individuals from the current two metres.
“However, this advice was only ever an absolute minimum, rather than a safe distance, and new evidence published today supports this longer distance.
“Protecting public health and avoiding the possibility of a second peak of infections should be key. It is, therefore, vital that the two-metre rule is not reduced due to pressure from industry.”
TV health expert Dr Hillary Jones has also spoken out about the need to maintain the distance.
Speaking to Lorraine earlier this week, he said: “What we do know for sure… Is that the further away you are, you reduce your risk. If I’m two metres away from you and you’ve got the virus, I’m actually halving my chances as opposed to being within one metre of you.
“Less than that, your chances of getting the virus from someone are about 13%. If I’m two metres away, 1.3%. It’s massively reduced. The further away you go, you halve the risk.”
In The Lancet study, researchers looked at data from nine studies across Sars, Mers and Covid-19, including 7,782 participants.
According to the researchers, keeping at least one metre from other people as well as wearing face coverings and eye protection, in and outside of healthcare settings, could be the best way to reduce the chance of viral infection or transmission of Covid-19.