Mixed reaction from retail bodies to relaxation of two metre distancing rule

Published on: 24th June 2020

BRC welcomes the move, while Usdaw opposes the revised ‘one metre plus’ rule.

The UK government has announced a relaxation of the two metre social distancing rule in England to take effect from 4th July, the same date that many other high street businesses will be able to reopen. In England, the revised physical distancing advice rather ambiguously specifies that people should keep a distance of “at least one metre plus”.

Announcing the move in Parliament yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that that the two metre rule “effectively makes life impossible for large parts of the economy. 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. They should remain one metre apart while taking mitigations to reduce risk of spread of the disease.”

The British Retail Consortium welcomed the announcement and the fact it has brought the UK in line with World Health Organisation guidance. BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson commented: “Retailers have worked hard to effectively implement social distancing measures during the pandemic and the safety of staff and customers will continue to be their main priority. The reduction will support shops, which have faced limits to footfall – and therefore spending – as a result of the distancing measures. The reopening of restaurants, bars and other services will also help encourage people back to our high streets. This is vital to reviving our town centres and we hope the public plays their part in supporting our local high streets. Every purchase we make is a shop helped and a job supported.”

However, trade union Usdaw has called for the two metre rule to be maintained. General secretary Paddy Lillis commented: “Reducing the two metre rule in stores could be disastrous for our members and send a message to the public that social distancing is over. It has taken a lot of hard work and effort to make the changes to encourage customers to follow two metre distancing in shops that stayed open throughout the lockdown. Non-essential retailers have also redesigned their stores on the basis of two metre social distancing for their reopening. Changing the rules would be an unnecessary burden on business, compromise the safety of staff and customers and create confusion.”

The change in the distancing rule comes at a crucial time for retailers, with quarterly rents due tomorrow. Ratings agency Moody’s has already warned that it could be “grim for store landlords and other commercial property owners, who will probably collect less than half the amounts due to them.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster have all confirmed that the two metre rule will remain in place for the time being.


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