Pressure is mounting on the government to relax the two-metre social distancing rule following a backlash from the hospitality sector.
Prime minister Boris Johnson ordered a review of the guideline over the weekend, with reports stating that it will be ministers rather than scientific advisors who make the ultimate decision.
Pub and restaurant bosses say that opening with one-metre distancing in place would allow venues to operate at more than twice the capacity than they would be able to at two metres.
It appears likely that the guideline will change to one metre within the coming weeks, although it is not expected to happen before pubs and restaurants are allowed to open their doors on 4 July.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that as infection rates fall, “you start to build some more margin for manoeuvre”.
With the UK economy shrinking 20% in April, ministers think the easing of the two-metre rule could be crucial in offsetting further decline.
In an interview with Sky News, chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “You are right to highlight the impact it has on business – it is the difference between maybe three-quarters and a third of pubs opening, for example, so it is important the we look at it.
“Obviously many other countries around the world use a different rule. We have seen a couple of countries recently – Norway and Denmark – have moved from two metres to something less as well.
“It is important that we look at it comprehensively, in the round, and that is what we will do urgently.”
Over the weekend, Fuller’s CEO Simon Emeny outlined the significance of the rule being amended.
“The difference between two-metre social distancing and one-metre social distancing is the difference between 30% of our estate and 75% of our estate opening,” he told the Financial Times.
The two-metre rule has implications for the way that restaurants manage both their front-of-house and back-of-house operations.
The Foodservice Equipment Association has been liaising closely with the government on how social distancing guidelines are adopted by the industry.
Chief executive Keith Warren said operators and consumers would need to use a “common-sense approach” to the interpretation of the guidelines when they are finally published.
“Having seen the initial government draft they are well-rounded and comprehensive but we will have to wait to see what the lobbing has done regarding the distancing. FEA called for one metre, in addition to other measures to protect consumers and workers alike.
“A combination of measures is likely to be as effective as a single measure if applied correctly. However, the good news is that we are talking about reopening at last and that is good for our industry.”