Scientists say: "1 metre? Not yet"

Submitted by AWL on 24 June, 2020 - 7:45 Author: Martin Thomas
Two metre rule

Boris Johnson announced on 23 June that he plans to let pubs and cafés reopen from 4 July with only one metre covid-distancing.

The Independent SAGE group of dissident scientists said on 18 June that "until there is evidence that infections have dropped to much fewer than 1,000 cases a day [the current 7-day average is 1,205, falling slowly] [one-metre] is not safe in indoor spaces particularly in restaurants, bars, or workplaces..."

The official SAGE scientists in late May blocked government plan to reduce the virus risk rating from 4 to 3, and got that move delayed to 19 June. One of them, Calum Semple, has now given a sort of yes to one metre. But their last report warns that crowded indoor spaces like "choir rehearsals, religious settings, parties, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs" have often spawned infection clusters.

Zeshan Qureshi and others have done a big survey of all the evidence (22 June). They rate 2 metres only a poor guess, but warn that "relaxing the 2-metre rule, particularly for indoor settings, might... risk an increase in infection rates".

The risk is a lot more than from reopening shops on 15 June, and it is heaviest for pub and café workers, there for whole shifts day after day.

Around late March, many workers forced virus precautions at their workplace, or closed it, by using their legal right under laws like Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 to withdraw from spaces of "serious and imminent danger". The same action can win again.

It is not, in law, "industrial action", so doesn't need a ballot or notice, and can be done even without a union (though a union can help).

Devi Sridhar, another scientist critical of the government, dismisses "pointless debates about 1 or 2 metre distancing", arguing instead that the key is better test-track-isolate.

There are arguments that even the best test-track-isolate could be only a minor help amid Britain's current infection numbers. In any case, the British government system is poor. The government's planned phone app has been ditched; as far as we know phone-app tracing has done well in no other country either; and Independent SAGE reports "public health teams reached... some 77,600 contacts [27 May to 10 June]... the Serco call handlers... fewer than 10,000... We have no idea how many people contacted are actually isolating".

Lockdown-easing has "worked", with only local virus-comebacks, across Europe, but it looks as if in Iran and Israel inept easing has led to full-scale resurgences, and the USA may have the same. Don't let the Tories put Britain in the same category.

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