The shopworkers’ union Usdaw has announced its opposition to the expected change to the two-metre social distancing rule, warning that the adjustment could be “disastrous” for its members.
Ahead of Boris Johnson’s statement in the Commons this afternoon, general secretary Paddy Lillis said that there is “plenty of evidence to show that two-metre separation is at least twice as safe as one metre”.
He highlighted that the current measure had been developed through a tripartite process with unions, retailers and the government, and stressed that any change to the rule should not be made “without full discussion and agreement”.
Lillis said: “The safety of our members and the public is our top priority, so Usdaw worked with the British Retail Consortium on joint safety guidance for shops based on the two-metre rule. Retailers have to publish risk assessments and implement robust safety measures and it appears that they have taken that seriously and are complying.
“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.
“There is plenty of evidence to show that two-metre separation is at least twice as safe as one metre. Independent SAGE warns that the risk of transmission is still too high to reduce social distancing rules indoors.”
The group Independent SAGE has warned that a relaxation from two metres to one metre would “effectively end social distancing in Britain”, and said that the daily number of new coronavirus cases is still too high for the reduction.
Setting out Usdaw’s case, Lillis added: “Apart from the increased risk of infection, there is also likely to be a rise in violence and abuse because of the confusion it will cause.
“One of the triggers for abuse of staff at present is conflict between customers when someone is perceived to be getting too close and not following the rules. This is likely to get worse once a change is announced.
“Covid-19 is still a killer disease that is at large in our communities. Retail has adapted well to the new circumstances, it is not necessary to change the two-metre rule and it certainly shouldn’t be done without full discussion and agreement.”
Labour’s Bridget Phillipson said this morning: “We support the principle of this change around social distancing, however we do want to see the publication of the government review and its findings.”
The opposition party has stressed the need for public confidence ahead of adjustments including the introduction of a revised distancing rule, and for the NHS Test and Trace to be working effectively.
The trade union Usdaw also opposed government plans to deregulate Sunday trading earlier this month, amid reports that the Conservatives intend to review laws restricting opening hours.