Covid UK: Scientists urge social distancing increase to THREE METRES


Boris Johnson is under pressure to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Leading members of the Sage scientific advisory panel want the measure raised from ‘one metre plus’ to ‘two metres plus’.

In practice this would change the limit to three metres – nearly 10ft. The drastic proposal came as a furious Matt Hancock denounced individuals who flout social distancing rules.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference the Health Secretary said that he would ‘not rule out further action if needed.’

He was backed by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who sits on Sage and said it was time to ‘double down’ on Covid curbs – including outdoor contact.

Asked if a three-metre rule would be imposed in England, a Downing Street spokesman said last night: ‘There are no current plans to change social distancing rules. However, everything is kept under review.’

It came as the country recorded a further 529 Covid deaths on Monday – marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. 

It was the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives. 

But, in a positive sign that the UK’s soaring case load may be leveling out, 46,169 people tested positive for the virus – down 20 per cent in a week.

As Boris Johnson also warned of tougher Covid-19 curbs if existing restrictions were ignored:

  • Another 529 virus deaths were recorded yesterday, up from 407 a week earlier, with 46,169 new cases;
  • Seven vaccination hubs came into use, including London’s ExCeL and Birmingham’s Millennium Point;
  • Morrisons said it would ban shoppers refusing to wear face coverings;
  • Derbyshire Police cancelled £200 fines for two women penalised for driving five miles to go for a walk;
  • Nearly a quarter of care home residents have received their first shot of Covid vaccine;
  • Hospitals started rationing oxygen as it emerged that one in four coronavirus patients is under 55.

Boris Johnson is under pressure from members of the Sage scientific advisory panel to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

The Daily Mail has been told that several members of Sage say the lockdown needs to be even tougher than the first one in March last year.

The idea of a Chinese-style ban on residents leaving their homes was raised at one meeting.

Ministers are furious that some people have been using their right to daily exercise simply as an excuse to meet friends for a coffee in the park.

One source said: ‘If it means limiting people to a single one-hour walk on their own once a week that is what we must do. We cannot let a few selfish idiots put the whole country in danger.’

It is feared that the failure to observe the restrictions is fuelling the number of deaths and risks hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Increasing the social distancing rule to three metres is seen as one way of stopping the spread of the new variant of the virus, which can be passed on more easily.

Britain yesterday recorded a further 529 Covid deaths - marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives

Britain yesterday recorded a further 529 Covid deaths – marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on the same day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 people lost their lives

Opponents of the move say it would have little impact, cause more confusion and be a logistical nightmare.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places.

Changing them all would add to the soaring cost of fighting the pandemic.

Supporters claim the benefit in saving lives and protecting the NHS means the move is worth it. They argue it is a response to the new variant which is thought to be up to be 70 per cent more transmissible.

If it goes ahead it would be the Government’s third policy on social distancing.

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two.

But it was reduced to ‘one metre plus’ in July after the first lockdown – mainly to make it easier for restaurants and cafes to reopen.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places

A ‘two metre plus’ rule would in practice mean staying three metres apart – nearly 10ft – unless steps were taken to limit the danger of transmission, such as screens.

Social distancing gaps vary around the world.

In China, Hong Kong and Singapore, which were successful in controlling the pandemic, the gap was one metre.

However, they imposed other, far stricter, rules including curfews. Spain and Canada followed the two-metre rule.

The three other home nations have different versions of the two-metre rule.

In Scotland people are advised to keep two metres apart and in Wales they are told to stay two metres apart unless it is not practical, with young children exempt.

The gap in Northern Ireland came down to one metre but is two again.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Risk declines the further you are away from someone.

‘So three metres will reduce risk somewhat compared to two metres – but it is difficult to say how much and whether that would make a big difference. I suspect the main issue is people not sticking to the two-metre rule.’

Mr Hancock warned against trying to ‘push the boundaries’ on exercise, adding: ‘If too many people break this rule we are going to have a look at it. Don’t say you are exercising if really you are just socialising.’

He said the two-metre rule had to be obeyed, not seen ‘as a limit to be challenged’. 

Shortly after Mr Hancock’s Downing Street press briefing on Monday, the PM released a short video filmed during his visit to the Ashton Gate vaccination centre in Bristol.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is allowed to cycle seven miles from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must ‘stay local’

In it, he urged Britons to ‘follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’ as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country.

Britons shouldn’t ‘lose focus on the pandemic’ as coronavirus is ‘still causing huge, huge problems for our NHS’, Mr Johnson added. 

Mr Hancock also used the briefing to defend the PM after he was spotted cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from Downing Street in apparent breach of government advice.

The Health Secretary said it is allowed to cycle that distance from where you live to take exercise, despite also insisting that people must ‘stay local’.

But he also warned that rules on two people from different households being able to exercise outdoors together could be torn up if people keep abusing them.

‘If too many people keep breaking this rule we are going to have to look at it but I don’t want to do that,’ Mr Hancock told a No10 briefing yesterday evening.

The PM was seen wearing a hat and a face mask on his bike at the venue seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

Shortly after Mr Hancock's address, the PM released a short video (pictured) filmed during his visit to the Bristol vaccination centre yesterday

Shortly after Mr Hancock’s address, the PM released a short video (pictured) filmed during his visit to the Bristol vaccination centre yesterday

In the clip (pictured), he urged Britons to 'follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives' as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country

In the clip (pictured), he urged Britons to ‘follow the guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’ as Covid continues to spread rapidly in several parts of the country

What are the government’s rules on taking exercise? 

You should minimise time spent outside your home, but you can leave your home to exercise. 

This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with one person from another household

This includes but is not limited to running, cycling, walking, and swimming. 

Personal training can continue one-on-one unless everyone is within the same household or support bubble.

Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds

A source told the Evening Standard that Mr Johnson was exercising, accompanied by his security detail. 

Extraordinarily the premier is said to have ‘noted how busy’ the park was and remarked on it at a meeting later.

Official Government guidance says exercise should be limited to once a day and ‘you should not travel outside your local area’. 

Two women were fined £200 each by Derbyshire Police for driving five miles from their home for a walk, while in Whitby officers have slammed people for going sledging.

A witness said: ‘He was leisurely cycling with another guy with a beanie hat and chatting while around four security guys, possibly more, cycled behind them.

‘When I realised the person looked like Boris I cycled past them to hear his voice and be sure it’s him. It was definitely Boris.

‘Considering the current situation with Covid I was shocked to see him cycling around looking so care free,” added the woman, who asked not to be named.

Also considering he’s advising everyone to stay at home and not leave their area, shouldn’t he stay in Westminster and not travel to other boroughs?’

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information yesterday on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and why it was within the rules.  

It is also not clear whether Mr Johnson was driven to the park with his bike, or cycled the whole way there and back. 

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said: ‘Government guidance on travelling to exercise is as clear as mud. 

‘People are travelling hundreds of miles to the Lake District while others are afraid to drive 5 minutes to the local park. 

‘I’ve written to the Prime Minister, asking him to set out clear guidance once and for all.’

In a video shared to the PM’s official Twitter account yesterday evening – which features footage of Mr Johnson’s visit to Bristol on Monday- the PM heaped praise on the Government’s vaccine programme.

But he warned Britons that it should not lead to complacency, as the new Covid variant is still spreading rapidly. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘Hi folks. I am here at this amazing Bristol mass-vaccination centre in a football stadium and it’s one of the 50 that we are going to be rolling out by the end of the month to help all the 1,000-plus GP surgeries, the 233 hospital sites, plus the 200 pharmacies.

‘And that’s, of course, just a start that we’re using to dispense the vaccine.

‘As I speak to you this morning I think we’ve done about 2.4 million jabs, 2 million people in the country already who have been vaccinated, and we will be massively ramping that up in the course of the next few weeks as we get up to, we hope, 15 million by the middle of February.

‘And that’s a very ambitious programme, we’re confident we can do it. 

‘But, as we get the jabs into people, it’s incredibly important that we don’t lose focus on the pandemic that is still, alas, surging in so many parts of the country, still filling our hospitals with Covid patients, still causing huge, huge problems for our NHS.

‘So everybody has got to follow the guidance. Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’

Along with his video, the PM tweeted: ‘As we get jabs into arms, we must not lose sight of the state of the pandemic – which is putting huge pressure on our NHS. 

‘So, please follow the rules and stay home to protect the NHS, and save lives.’   

Obey the rules or they’ll get tougher: PM’s warning as Whitty says we’re at the worst point of the pandemic

ByJason Groves Political Editor For The Daily Mail 

Lockdown restrictions will be tightened again if the public flout the current rules, Boris Johnson warned yesterday.

The Prime Minister said ‘complacency’ among the public could plunge the country into a deeper crisis at what was already a ‘very perilous moment’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night reinforced his message, saying so-called support bubbles were the only lockdown exemption guaranteed to stay.

The warnings came amid mounting Government concern that the third lockdown may fail to bring the latest spike in coronavirus infections under control.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus. 

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

He added: ‘The key thing to understand is that when you meet people from another household under any circumstances – and they’re very often your friends, your family – but those are the kind of situations where the virus is passed on.’

He added: ‘It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t care whether they’re your friends. If you meet someone from another household, the virus has an opportunity to be transmitted.’

Ministers are considering a number of further restrictions, including closing the exemption that allows two people from different households to exercise together outdoors.

Government sources yesterday said Mr Johnson was ‘reluctant’ to scrap the exemption, which provides one of the few remaining lifelines for the lonely.

But there are fears it is muddying the ‘stay at home’ message, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman yesterday struggling to clarify whether two friends can take drinks with them on a walk.

No mask, then you can’t shop at Morrisons

Morrisons will ban customers who refuse to wear face coverings from its shops amid rising coronavirus infections.

Shoppers who refuse to wear masks offered by staff will not be allowed in unless they are medically exempt. Chief executive David Potts said: ‘Our store colleagues are working hard to feed you and your family, please be kind.’

The policy threatens to trigger confrontations at the doors amid concerns about a rise in abuse and attacks on staff who are trying to impose social distancing rules.

Sainsbury’s is also introducing rules which require customers to shop alone and wear face masks. Security guards will challenge those who are not wearing a mask or who are shopping in groups.

It came as industry bosses angrily rejected claims from ministers that supermarkets are to blame for the spread of the virus.

One retail source said the Government ‘would be wise to investigate their own decisions around reducing social distancing rules, rather trying to lay the blame on supermarkets.’

Mr Hancock said the exemption was under review as it was being abused. ‘We have been seeing large groups… and you should be two metres apart from the other person. If there are too many people breaking this rule then we are going to have to look at it.

‘But, I don’t want to do that because for many people, being able to go for a walk with a friend… is their only social contact.’

Pre-school nurseries and places of worship could also face restrictions if cases continue to rise – but Mr Hancock said support bubbles were sacrosanct.

The arrangement allows those living alone or with babies to link up with one other household for support.

The Prime Minister and his fiancee Carrie Symonds are among those who have taken advantage of the system, forming a support bubble with Miss Symonds’s mother following the birth of their son Wilfred in April.

Ministers hope the blunt messaging on the NHS crisis and tougher rule enforcement will persuade people to comply with the letter and spirit of the lockdown.

But Labour yesterday called for the rules to be tightened, including the closure of nurseries.

Mr Hancock last night suggested a major relaxation of the rules was unlikely until all over-60s have been vaccinated – which the new plan suggests won’t be until at least April.

He said it was only at this point that ministers could be absolutely sure that hospital admissions from the virus would start to fall.

But the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, who oppose lockdown, last night said it should be lifted as soon as the 13million most vulnerable are vaccinated – which the Prime Minister pledged to achieve by February 15.

Boris Johnson pedals into a storm over lockdown bike ride after he is spotted cycling SEVEN MILES from Downing Street in the Olympic Park

ByClaire Ellicott Political Correspondent For The Daily Mail 

Boris Johnson has been accused of undermining his own lockdown rules after it was revealed that he went cycling seven miles from Downing Street for exercise.

The Prime Minister was spotted on his bike at the Olympic Park in east London on Sunday afternoon with his security detail.

Wearing a Transport for London hat and a face mask, he rode around the site in Stratford, east London, at around 2pm.

A few hours after his ride, Mr Johnson held a meeting with Cabinet colleagues to discuss the current lockdown.

Boris Johnson was spotted at the Olympic Park seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon. Pictured, the PM cycling in Beeston last summer

Boris Johnson was spotted at the Olympic Park seven miles away from Downing Street yesterday afternoon. Pictured, the PM cycling in Beeston last summer

Last night, Hammersmith Labour MP Andy Slaughter said: ‘Once again it is ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ from the Prime Minister.

‘London has some of the highest infection rates in the country. Boris Johnson should be leading by example.’

A source told the Evening Standard that the PM was exercising, adding: ‘But he did note how busy the park was and he commented on it at the meeting last night.

So what is allowed?

Government rules state that ‘you should not travel outside your local area’ for exercise.

However, what does and does not constitute ‘local’ has been up for debate.

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked if Britons were allowed to exercise seven miles from home.

He replied: ‘It is OK to go if you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles from home, that is OK, but you should stay local.’

He added: ‘You should not go from one side of the country to the other, potentially taking the virus with you, because remember one in three people who have the virus don’t know they have it because they don’t have symptoms.

‘It is OK to go for a long walk or a cycle ride or to exercise, but stay local.’ 

‘He was concerned about if people were following the rules and was concerned after his ride around the park.’

Downing Street declined to comment on the journey, and would not clarify whether the PM cycled to the park or was driven there in a vehicle for his bike ride.

Some social media users have pointed out that there are green spaces much closer to the PM’s home in Westminster where he could exercise.

Mr Johnson has made of a point of being seen to exercise since his brush with death after he contracted Covid in March last year.

In a bid to prove he is ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’, he is regularly pictured running in nearby St James’s Park and with celebrity personal trainer Harry Jameson.

He often runs with his dog Dilyn around the Downing Street garden.

The PM has also been running in Buckingham Palace grounds after the Queen gave permission, and in Lambeth Palace’s grounds after the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his approval.

The PM’s spokesman was unable to give any information yesterday on why Mr Johnson had gone to Stratford and how it was within the rules.

However a Downing Street source told the BBC: ‘The PM has exercised within the Covid rules and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.’

Mr Johnson has warned he is ready to tighten lockdown further as he voiced fears that vaccines have made people ‘complacent’ about obeying rules.

His warnings come as the NHS teeters on the brink of disaster. 

Derbyshire Police axe £200 fines for women swooped on during reservoir walk 

ByGeorge Odling Crime Reporter For The Daily Mail 

Police last night apologised and scrapped £200 fines handed to two women for driving five miles to go for a walk at a beauty spot during lockdown.

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, both 27, were fined for making a ten-minute journey to Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire last week after police claimed they could have taken exercise closer to home.

They said officers also accused them of having a picnic – because they were drinking takeaway peppermint tea.

Friends Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, pictured, both 27, who were each fined £200 by police for driving 10mins for a walk in a local reservoir say they've had their fines cancelled following backlash

Friends Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, pictured, both 27, who were each fined £200 by police for driving 10mins for a walk in a local reservoir say they’ve had their fines cancelled following backlash

Derbyshire Chief Constable Rachel Swann last night said the penalty notices had been withdrawn and the women had received an apology. She added: ‘I support the fact that the officers were trying to encourage people to stay local to prevent the spread of the virus.

‘We have been working hard to understand the ever-changing guidance and legislation and to communicate this to our officers in a way that makes it clear what is the right course of action to take.’

Beautician Miss Allen, from Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, said both she and Miss Moore welcomed the apology. The pair were stunned when officers swooped as they strolled by the reservoir.

Miss Allen initially thought ‘someone had been murdered or a child had gone missing.’ West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Brian Booth yesterday claimed officers had been left in an impossible situation by ‘woolly laws’.

He insisted: ‘Walking a tightrope between maintaining public confidence and upholding the law is not made easy with poor guidance. Police officers are being made scapegoats for poor policy and law-writing.

However, beautician Jessica Allen, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, revealed they had received separate calls from the force who apologised to them both and informed them their fines will be cancelled (This map shows the proximity between her house and the reservoir)

However, beautician Jessica Allen, of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, revealed they had received separate calls from the force who apologised to them both and informed them their fines will be cancelled (This map shows the proximity between her house and the reservoir)

Jessica told how they were surrounded by police when they arrived in separate vehicles at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday and 'assumed there had been a murder'

Jessica told how they were surrounded by police when they arrived in separate vehicles at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday and ‘assumed there had been a murder’

‘Make it clear to the public, for example, if it is desired that exercise be limited to local – then clearly state in law what local is. Do not insert it into guidance that has no legal standing.’

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night praised the police for their efforts in enforcing the rules.

Following calls from police for clarification, a No10 spokesman said Britons were permitted to meet one other person for exercise but not socialising, adding: ‘Going for a walk, obviously, does count as exercise.’

Meanwhile, police in Devon and Cornwall are using car number plate recognition technology to ensure only essential journeys are made following reports of hundreds of travel breaches at the weekend – many related to second homes in the area.

Elsewhere, police were filmed smashing through the back door of a pub in Walsall, West Midlands, with a battering ram after receiving reports it was serving alcohol to a group of men.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk