Coronavirus: Scottish secretary wants one metre distance rule

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Alister Jack at Downing StreetImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Mr Jack warned that many businesses would not survive unless the 2m rule is relaxed

A UK cabinet minister has called for the 2m (6ft) social distancing rules to be relaxed as quickly as possible.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he believed the distance should be cut to 1m as soon as is it safe to do so

Mr Jack said the move was needed to ensure the tourism and hospitality sector were financially viable.

His call was echoed by economist and former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson, who wrote the party's growth commission report.

Mr Wilson said reducing the distance was "mission critical" for many businesses across Scotland.

The World Health Organisation recommends that people keep at least 1m apart to help reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19.

Both the UK and Scottish governments have said the current 2m rule is best of the best-available scientific evidence, and is needed to ensure the virus continues to be suppressed

But the tourism industry, pubs, restaurants and other businesses say they will be unable to reopen unless the distance is cut, as has already happened in several other countries around the world.

And Downing Street has been facing calls from Tory backbenchers to cut the social distancing rule in England.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
People across the UK must currently keep at least two metres apart

Mr Jack told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that the tourism and hospitality sector was "effectively going to face three winters" unless it can be restarted this summer.

He said: "As soon as it is possible to do so with the R number suppressed, I would like to see it move to 1m to get back to something near normal in the way that we conduct our lives and our businesses as we see the virus recede

"We've seen this happen without any bad consequences in other European countries.

"For a lot of hospitality businesses they need 2m to become 1m when it is safe to do so to be economically viable."

Asked when the UK government would change the rule, Mr Jack said the prime minister had an "open mind".

He also said he would have preferred for Scotland's tourism industry to reopen on 1 July that than 15 July, as is currently the plan.

Meanwhile, Mr Wilson told the same programme that he agreed many businesses would not be viable unless the social distancing rules were relaxed.

He said: "The evidence from around the world is that it is possible, and I think it is mission critical for so many businesses."

Scotland's finance secretary, Kate Forbes, joined the Podlitical team for a discussion about how coronavirus could have a "disproportionate" impact on Scotland's economy, the "acute hardship" facing firms and how to persuade people to return to shops and restaurants.

Mr Wilson said Scotland, where the economy relies on tourism and the oil sector more than other parts of the UK, would be among the hardest hit.

He added: "The tidal wave of unemployment, the cost of business failures, the cost to people who lose their income, that will be more damaging to their health and wellbeing and their mental health than the current Covid impact.

"It's not either/or. They are both part of the same problem."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that infection rates and cases were falling in Scotland due to a "careful and orderly plan".

She added: "The more we suppress - and hopefully eradicate Covid-19 - the more normality we can restore to the economy. Sustainability of recovery matters.

"If we can effectively eradicate Covid-19 and then control through Test and Protect and policies to mitigate against cases coming into country - we can restore much greater degree of normality.

"Decisions then about, eg, 2m v 1m are more possible. But first we must suppress/eradicate."