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'Room for manoeuvre': The country looking to change two-metre coronavirus rule

The UK is reviewing its two-metre social distancing rule as it looks to reopen bars, restaurants and salons.

Progress in tackling the coronavirus pandemic had created "room for manoeuvre" on the rule, which many employers have said will make it harder to get back up to speed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at an east London shopping centre preparing to reopen next week.

Britain has reported the third highest number of coronavirus deaths after the United States and Brazil, something critics of the government say reflects its response to the crisis.

Social-distancing measures displayed in a shop window on Oxford Street in London, England.
A store in London's Oxford Street show social-distancing measures. Source: Getty Images

Mr Johnson's Conservative Party government, which says it has followed scientific advice in its handling of the pandemic, faces the difficult balancing act of reviving the economy without allowing a second wave of cases.

"We'll work closely with the scientists at all times and make the right decision on the basis of safety, health and stopping the disease," Mr Johnson said.

The scale of Britain's slump was laid bare by data last week which showed output shrank by 25 per cent over March and April.

Pedestrians walk past Selfridges' window displays on Oxford Street in London, England.
Residents walk past UK department store Selfridges' window displays. Source: Getty Images

As COVID-19 in the population fell to one in 1,600 or lower, the chances of catching the disease from an encounter of less than two metres had diminished, Mr Johnson said.

"You start to build some more margin for manoeuvre," he said.

"So we'll be keeping it under review for July 4th."

Finance Minister Rishi Sunak earlier told UK’s Sky News the review would involve economists as well as scientists so it could be looked at "in the round".

A City of Westminster hand sanitiser station on Oxford Street in London, England.
A hand sanitiser station on London's Oxford Street. Source: Getty Images

Lowering the distance people have to maintain from one another could provide an immediate benefit for badly-hit English pubs, with Mr Sunak saying three-quarters could reopen, rather than about one-third with a two-metre rule.

Airlines have also warned of huge job losses because of the quarantine policy Britain introduced last week.

Mr Sunak said the government could make changes to the 14-day quarantine for people coming into the country, such as the introduction of travel corridors with specific countries.

"The transport secretary is actively looking at options as we continue to make progress against the virus. We might be able to do more here as well," Mr Sunak said.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson buys a coffee from Freddy Staple, operations manager for Caffe Concerto at Westfield shopping centre in east London.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson buys a coffee at a shopping centre in east London. He's touting the reopening of businesses. Source: Getty Images

Asked if he might cut value-added tax (VAT) to spur spending, Mr Sunak said it was something Britain had done previously.

"Before we have that conversation we need to actually reopen those sectors. There's no point in cutting VAT on a sector that is actually closed," he said.

But the World Health Organisation's regional European director Hans Kluge has warned against the easing of restrictions.

Mr Kluge told The Guardian Britain remained in a "very active phase of the pandemic" and warned against rushing into reopening the economy.

Customers chat as they drink their takeaway draught beer in plastic cups outside a pub in Broadway Market, London.
Pubgoers enjoy a takeaway beer at London's Broadway Market. Source: Getty Images

England's test-and-trace system identified nearly 32,000 people who had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 in its first week of operation, but the government admitted the system was not perfect and would need to do better.

"Contact tracing is key especially as the UK starts to relax the social and physical distancing measures. There has to be a robust track-and-trace system in place of operation," Mr Kluge told The Guardian.

Britain has reported 41,698 coronavirus-related deaths as of June 13, the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil, according to government data.

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