Social-distancing relaxation splits unions and industry

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From 4 July, people in England will be advised to remain at least 1 metre away from each other, rather than 2 metres, after prime minister Boris Johnson admitted the previous guidance made life “impossible” for large parts of the economy.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to open from 4 July, and different households will be able to meet indoors.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “We welcome the prime minister’s announcement that the social-distancing limit will be reduced to 1 metre from 4 July. This brings the UK in line with the WHO [World Health Organization] safety guidance.

”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, shop worker trade union Usdaw is urging retailers to maintain the 2-metre distance to protect staff.

Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “Usdaw worked with the BRC on joint safety guidance for shops based on the 2-metre rule and in our experience retailers have taken that seriously and are complying.

“It has taken a lot of hard work and effort to make the changes to encourage customers to follow social distancing of 2 metres in shops that stayed open throughout the lockdown. Non-essential retailers have also redesigned their stores on the basis of 2-metre social distancing for their reopening.

”So we urge retailers to maintain their existing safety measures. Retail is working well under the 2-metre rule. It is not necessary to reduce to 1 metre, which could compromise the safety of staff and customers and create confusion.”  

The BRC said it will update its guidance on shop safety measures when the restrictions are eased in July. 

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