Two metres or not two metres – that is the question!

Apologies to Shakespeare for the Headline. This is a matter that we all need to think about carefully and think how it will affect us, our families and our communities

So, the greatest contention in the Covid-19 debate is now whether social distancing should mean 1 metre or two metres. Regrettably, we have seen examples in Allerton Road and Woolton Village where neither of those distances counted because young people from clearly different households were sitting together drinking beer in the open.

So, let’s deal with the science first. Clearly the wider separation the better. 5 metres would be safer than 4 and 4 would be better than 3 etc. But clinical safety always has to be mixed with operational practicalities. If this were not the case, we would never leave home and we would never drive at more than 5 miles an hour.

If you are out in the open you are probably safer than if you are inside. But that depends on what you are doing. Sitting quietly in a room with a couple of people and a book is one thing. Joining a choir where you take in and expel a lot of air surrounded by people is another. Walking with a few people in the open air is probably quite safe. Playing a contact sport is probably not at least under the old rules.

So, there is science and there are rules and the two must come together to provide something that is workable and achievable. I think that most people would be pleased if the Government admitted this and said that there is no precise distance that is safe or unsafe and that circumstances must always be taken into account. Clarity on what needs to be done is vitally needed from a Government which sets targets and then explains why it did meet them but at the same time didn’t.

If we take another example – the testing issue. If the Government had said right from the start that setting up a new system was going to be difficult and they were trying to establish a testing regime of 100k per day by 1st June people would have thought that reasonable and congratulated them on what they achieved. To then say, however, that they had achieved by cooking the books denigrated the achievement. To say now that the app which was going to be world class and would be a major way of ensuring the end of lockdown and now saying (after spending £12 million) that it was never that important just made them look even more stupid.

And that’s true with social distancing as well. I don’t think that a reduction from two metres to one will really make much difference to most people. They are going to take the obviously sensible precaution to stay as far away from people outside their own household as possible. They will apply that in different ways. They will not go into cafes or restaurants if they look full no matter what the regulations say. They will sum up the building and the activity and judge if they will feel safe in it.

Ryanair and EasyJet are complaining that they cannot make social distancing work in their planes. Lots of people have already decided not to use planes for the foreseeable future for just that reason. Whether or not you fill the middle seat is a minor matter to them against the overall idea of sitting in metallic, boxed in, cramped conditions with people you don’t know.

The same applies to schools. Just so that I am not misunderstood I understand the damage that is being done to children’s education and mental health and want the schools to fully reopen again as soon as possible. I believe that every parent will want to look for themselves at the conditions of the school before letting their child return. Are the classrooms safe? What about the corridors, the lunch facilities and the play grounds? Some schools might indeed be safe for a full return in September but others will not no matter what arbitrary figure for distancing is dreamt up by a Tory politician.

Those young people who are sitting in the street or park boozing with people outside the guidelines will probably come to no harm. But they might pick up the virus from someone who is asymptomatic and take it home and endanger their grandparents as families begin to be able to meet more.

Should we all wear masks more? I have a mask permanently in my pocket now but rarely use it because I don’t get into enclosed positions or close proximity to strangers. However, if I need to do either of these I would automatically reach for my mask to maintain safeness for me and the people I am with.

What I say next is going to make me sound old! We all need to consider what the Government says by why of guidelines but need to apply a modicum of common sense to them. We will all make our mind up, if we are thinking at all about these issues, about what we think is safe and if people around us are doing things that are unsafe we will tell them or leave them.

My plea to the government is to say what they mean and men what they say. We don’t want half witted politicians playing ducks and drakes with scientific advice. We accept as individuals that life is a compromise on this as on many other issues. Just give us the facts. Set down in law or regulation what needs to be set down. Then leave us to get on with using that information to get on with the job of keeping ourselves, our families and our neighbours safe.

For me though I can simply say that I will continue to practice practical self-isolation and the two-metre guideline for the foreseeable future.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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