The UK government will hold discussions about whether it’s necessary to stay two meters (six feet) apart from other people during the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report says. The WHO and EU guidelines on this issue are less strict.

Citing government sources, the Daily Telegraph reports that ministers have asked the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to ascertain whether the two-meter social distance rule is effective in slowing down the spread of Covid-19. Last week, SAGE called the measure “appropriate,” but officials now want to assess all options once more in the wake of the government’s plans to begin gradually reopening the country.

The two-meter rule is the subject of “live discussion” among cabinet members, one minister told the Daily Telegraph, adding that the government is focused on getting Britain “back to work.”

This is not about weakening the rules, but about trying to test if it’s actually necessary to be two meters. What is the empirical evidence on this?

The minister noted that there has to be “common sense” in the way social distancing is being observed. “If someone’s fallen over and you need to pick them up, you can’t [maintain] a two-meter distance rule,” he said.

Staying strictly two meters apart in public places has been advocated at the highest level, including by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ever since the country went into lockdown. However, the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) advise that it’s necessary to maintain only a one-meter (3ft) distance to protect oneself from Covid-19.

Italy, which was hit harder by the coronavirus than the UK, and plans to gradually ease quarantine rules after May 4, has urged its citizens to stay at least a meter from each other.

The UK’s approach to social distancing has received some criticism at home. Robert Dingwall, of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, which provides data to SAGE, told BBC Radio 4 last week that strict social distancing cannot be observed “without causing serious damage to society, to the economy and to the physical and mental health of the population.”

“The two-meter rule was conjured up out of nowhere,” he said.

As of Friday, the UK had more than 177,450 confirmed Covid-19 cases, and there had been 27,510 deaths, according to government data.

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