A police officer patrols along the beach in Bournemouth, Dorset, as the public are being reminded to practice social distancing following the relaxation of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England – Two-metre social distancing rule based on outdated science that may have overestimated coronavirus risk by up to fifteen times – PA

The two-metre rule on social distancing is based on outdated science that may have overestimated the risk by up to fifteen times, senior MPs and scientists have warned.

The Government on Tuesday said the controversial rule would stay in place despite a major study showing the comparative risk of halving the distance to one metre was far less than previously thought.

Business leaders and MPs have called for the guidance to be altered in line with WHO guidance and rules followed by some other countries in order to avoid mass redundancies and help the hospitality sector reopen.

Last week, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, suggested two metres was still necessary as the risk of spreading the virus remained too great.

“It’s not an absolute [that] beyond two metres is safe and slightly less is not safe, there’s a graduation across that, and so roughly at a metre it’s somewhere between 10 and 30 times more risky than at two metres,” Sir Patrick told the Downing Street press conference on May 28.

But an analysis published on Tuesday in the Lancet found the risk of standing one metre apart was only around twice that of standing two metres apart – a 2.6 per cent chance of catching the disease compared to 1.3 per cent.

Keeping one metre apart also cuts the overall risk of catching coronavirus by 80 per cent, the study found.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a Government adviser on Covid-19, said scientists backing the two-metre rule were relying too heavily on “experimental lab work that doesn’t translate into a real world setting”.

Prof Dingwall, an advocate of reducing social distancing to one metre, said that too many scientists were basing their calculations for safe distancing on transmission of the disease in the laboratory, failing to take into account real world conditions in which air flow played a huge part in dispersing the virus. He believes there is almost zero risk of catching Covid-19 outdoors and that one metre is sufficient for maintaining a safe social distance.

Story continues

In the latest paper produced by the the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) committee on the issue in April, scientists recommended keeping the rule, saying two metres is a “good measure” of the distance where the direct person-to-person transmission risk drops significantly. The paper, based on previous studies from countries including China, US and South Africa, said: “Evidence from modelling studies and simple calculation in a room without ventilation flow suggests that exposure could be 10-30 times higher at one metre compared to two metres.”

On May 27, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had asked members of Sage to review the guidance.

However, a Number 10 spokesman said on Tuesday that the Government still believes the two-metre rule should remain in place. 

Greg Clark, chairman of the science and technology committee, said ministers should only be using the most “up-to-date” scientific analysis to decide whether to reduce the distance.  

“Now the world has several months’ experience of the coronavirus we have the chance to learn how countries with different rules – such as Germany, Australia and Singapore – have fared in practice,” he told the Telegraph

“As we come out of lockdown it may be the case that the distance rules can be set to reflect different situations – recognising that the risk of transmission is much less outdoors than indoors, for example, and that wearing face masks protects people against infection.”

On Tuesday, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) stressed the “vital” importance of the two-metre distance 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 for “riskier” businesses including pubs.

CIEH Wales director Kate Thompson said: “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.”



Source link