Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the prime minister said cutting the distance from two metres will allow the stricken hospitality sector to start reopening.
Johnson said: “Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should. But where it is not, we will advise people to keep a social distance of one metre plus, meaning they should remain one metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce the risk of transmission.”
He subsequently confirmed pubs, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and hairdressers can reopen from 4 July providing they are “COVID-secure”.
One MP could be heard shouting “hallelujah” as the announcement was made.
Johnson also announced two households will be allowed to meet indoors and stay overnight.
However, he warned: “The more we open up, the more vigilant we need to be.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, while saying a number of questions remain, told Johnson: “Overall, I welcome this statement. I believe the government is trying to do the right thing and in that, we will support them.”
Johnson’s announcement came after new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed the number of people dying with COVID-19 in England and Wales has fallen to the lowest weekly level since the lockdown was imposed.
The PM’s decision comes amid a balancing act between appeasing frustrated Tory MPs desperate to restart the economy and the government’s top scientists who have tended to urge caution about easing the lockdown.
Last month, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the risk of coronavirus spread is up to 30 times higher when someone is a metre away from an infected person than two metres away.
Other scientists have expressed concern Downing Street is moving too quickly, especially as its track and trace system to contain fresh outbreaks is not fully up and running after the government ditched its own contact tracing app.
Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told BBC Newsnight on Monday there was a “danger” that some people thought lockdown had ended.
Prof Yardley said “you could argue that we were never so much listening to the government as doing what we thought was right at the right time”.
She added it “would be much harder” to impose lockdown for a second time if there is a fresh spike in cases.
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