This means the disease would spread to fewer than three out of 100 people, whereas 13 out of 100 would catch the virus if no distancing rule was in place.
The study found that standing two metres apart was slightly more effective at preventing transmission, reducing the risk to around 1.3 per cent, but that nothing can provide complete protection.
They added that face masks have a strong protective effect, reducing the risk of catching the virus by up to 85 per cent.
Politicians and business leaders have claimed the small increased risk from relaxing the two-metre restriction would be worth the economic benefits of allowing more businesses to reopen.
Writing in yesterday’s Daily Mail, former chancellor Norman Lamont said halving the rule to one metre was ‘the single most important measure we must take’ to avoid ‘devastating mass unemployment’.
The WHO only recommends staying one metre apart. In France and Italy, the recommended social distance is just one metre, while Germany and Australia have implemented a 1.5 metre rule.
Yesterday’s study, published in the Lancet, was conducted to inform WHO guidance and reviewed data from 172 existing studies on the spread of Covid-19, SARS and MERS.
It concluded: ‘Keeping a distance of over one metre from other people was associated with a much lower risk of infection compared with less than one metre.
‘However, the modelling suggests for every extra metre further away up to three metres, the risk of infection or transmission may halve.’
The study also adds to evidence that face masks should be worn on public transport and in busy areas, and highlights the importance of PPE for healthcare workers.
What is the science behind two-metre social distancing rule?
There are a wide range of recommendations on social distancing that differ from country to country.
The World Health Organisation recommends a one metre distance between two people from separate households.
The reason for this, as stated on its website, is that: ‘When someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person has the disease.’
But other countries have taken advice from their own health experts and social distancing varies from two metres (in the UK) down to one metre (in France)
The two metre rule can be traced back to research in the 1930s that showed droplets of liquid from coughs or sneezes would land within a one-two metre range, as reported by the BBC.
Iain Duncan Smith is not the first to criticise the UK’s adopting of the two metre rule, out of line with many other European countries.
Robert Dingwall, from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), previously said in April the rule was ‘conjured up out of nowhere’.
Mr Dingwall told Radio 4’s Today: ‘We cannot sustain [social distancing measures] without causing serious damage to society, to the economy and to the physical and mental health of the population.
‘I think it will be much harder to get compliance with some of the measures that really do not have an evidence base. I mean the two-metre rule was conjured up out of nowhere.’
Social distancing varies between different countries:
TWO METRES: UK, Switzerland, US, Spain, Italy
1.5 METRES: Germany, Poland, Netherlands
ONE METRE: Austria, Norway, Sweden, Finland
It found that the risk of catching the virus when wearing a mask was just three per cent, compared to 17 per cent when not wearing a mask.
Co-author Dr Derek Chu, from McMaster University, said: ‘We believe that solutions should be found for making face masks available to the general public. However, people must be clear that wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing, eye protection or basic measures such as hand hygiene, but might add an extra layer of protection.’
Former ministers Mr Lamont and Theresa Villiers are among a growing chorus of politicians calling for the two metre social distancing rule to be reduced to save jobs.
They have pointed to the smaller social distancing recommendations in other countries.
Figures from the British Beer and Pub Association figures show that, with the current two metre rule, only 20 to 30 per cent of premises will be able to open at a sustainable level.
However, if the rule was reduced to one metre, 70 per cent would be able to open.
Mr Lamont said: ‘The onus is on the (Government’s) advisers to explain why it is that, while Britons must stay two metres apart, the World Health Organisation recommends one metre – as do many other European countries, acting on their scientists’ advice.’
Miss Villiers, a former environment secretary, tod BBC Radio 4: ‘I think we should take comfort from the World Health Organisation that one to two metres is safe and the fact that many other countries have taken the approach of one or 1.5 metres, that demonstrates that can be managed safely.
‘Unless we ease the two metre rule, the hospitality sector is likely to stay closed.’
The former ministers’ comments come days after chairman of the Commons Science Committee Greg Clark said he had written a letter to Boris Johnson urging the Prime Minister to relax the two metre rule.
Mr Clark said: ‘The difference between 2m and 1.5m may seem small but it can be the difference between people being able to go to work and losing their jobs.’
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his support for the two metre rule, saying: ‘I must stress that to control the virus, everyone needs to stay alert, act responsibly, strictly observe social distancing rules, and stay two metres apart from those who you do not live with.’
Commenting on the new study, Professor Trish Greenhalgh, from the University of Oxford, said: ‘On average, staying one metre away from other people appears to reduce your chance of catching COVID-19 by 80 per cent.
‘Wearing a mask or face covering appears to reduce your risk by up to 85 per cent. And wearing goggles or a face shield seems to reduce it by up to 78%. Whilst all these results are subject to uncertainty, the overwhelming message is that physical measures are effective in preventing COVID-19.’
Professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Edinburgh, said the study showed how ‘physical distancing matters’ and argued that the current two metre rule should be maintained where possible.
She said: ‘There have been plenty of complaints that the guidance in the UK on two meters distance is excessive because it is more than in other countries. But this review supports it.
‘Maintaining this distance is likely to reduce risk compared to 1 meter. Thus where possible, this is the distance that retailers and employers should use as more premises and workplaces reopen in the future.’
SCRAP THE TWO METRE RULE TO SAVE OUR PUBS: SENIOR TORIES DEMAND BORIS REDUCES SOCIAL DISTANCING MEASURE – OR SEE APOCALYPTIC JOB LOSSES IN THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR
FSenior Tory MPs have urged Boris Johnson to reduce the UK’s two metre social distancing rule as they warned failure to do so could risk a wave of redundancies in the hospitality sector.
There is a growing campaign for the existing restriction to be eased to one and a half metres or even just one metre.
This would give pubs, bars, restaurants and theatres much more room for manoeuvre when they are allowed to reopen and significantly increase the number of patrons allowed in a specific premises.
That could in turn boost the financial health of businesses and stop them from having to make staff redundant because of lower revenues.
Mr Johnson revealed earlier this week that he has asked top Government scientists to review the existing rule in the ‘hope’ that it could be reduced.
But Tory MPs, including former business secretary Greg Clark and former Brexit secretary David Davis, are seeking a commitment from the PM now.
Meanwhile, Tory former chancellor Lord Lamont said reducing the rule is ‘urgently important’ because it is the one ‘single measure’ which could save many firms.
Pub chiefs have warned that if the two metre rule remains in place then two thirds are likely to remain shut.
But if it is reduced to one metre then three quarters could reopen immediately.
Polling has also suggested that 40 per cent of pubs would not be able to survive until September if they have to remain closed.
Credit — dailymail.co.uk