The '1 metre plus' social distancing rule explained - and if it's safe to be closer than 2 metres

Friday, 26th June 2020, 8:53 am
Updated Friday, 26th June 2020, 10:42 am
The two metre distancing rule is set to be replaced in England. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The two metre distancing rule is set to be replaced in England. (Photo: Shutterstock)

From July 4, a new “one metre plus” rule will be in place in England where it is not possible for people to stay two metres apart.

The new rule was announced by the PM on June 23 amid further relaxing of lockdown rules in England.

What is the one metre plus rule? 

While the government still maintains that people from different households should stay at least two metres apart from each other, where this is not possible people should follow the new “one metre plus” rule.

This rule dictates that people from different households should keep one metre apart while taking other precautions (the “plus”) to mitigate the risk of virus transmission.

This includes wearing face coverings, avoiding standing or sitting face to face, and practicing good hygiene by using hand sanitiser and frequently washing hands.

Businesses can mitigate risk by changing layouts, reducing numbers of customers or employees in a space, and improving ventilation.

Why has the new rule been introduced? 

The change has been announced as part of further easing of lockdown in England.

Part of the reason for the change has been pressure from hospitality businesses such as pubs, who say it would be practically impossible to operate with two metre distancing in place.

The new rule will also help businesses like hotels and hairdressers to open from July.

What does the science say? 

The government’s committee of scientific advisors - Sage - say that evidence suggests that being one metre away from someone carries between two and ten times the risk of being two metres away from someone.

Though the science is not exact, the general rule is that the closer you are to someone, the greater the risk of infection.

A recent study published in medical journal The Lancet looked into how coronavirus spreads, and concluded that keeping at least one metre away from others could be the best way to limit the chance of catching the virus.

The risk is estimated to be around 13 per cent within one metre, and only 3 per cent beyond that distance.

The study also said that for every extra metre of distance up to three metres, the risk is reduced by about half.

What are the rules in other countries? 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends keeping at least one metre away from others.

China, France, Hong Kong, Singapore and Lithuania all follow this guidance, recommending at least a one metre distance, though most of these countries have also made masks mandatory in certain situations.

In South Korea, the recommended distance is 1.4 metres, while Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Italy and Australia all recommend 1.5 metres.

The US recommends 1.8 metres, and Canada and the UK recommend two metres.

The original idea of distancing to mitigate the risk of infection comes from research in the 1930s, when scientists found that droplets of liquids released in a cough or sneeze either fall to the ground or evaporate quickly - most landing within 1-2 metres.

That’s why the greatest risk of infection from coronavirus comes from having someone cough or sneeze towards you at close proximity, or from touching a surface that has had cough or sneeze droplets on it then touching your eyes, mouth or nose.