Boris Johnson gave a glimmer of hope the two-metre rule will be relaxed soon today as figures showed the UK economy in freefall with a record 20.4 per cent decline in April.
GDP plummeted by more than a fifth in the first full month of the crippling lockdown being in place, following a 5.8 per cent slump in March – which was in itself a the biggest dive ever at the time
UK plc has now contracted by 25 per cent since February – with the country facing the worst recession in 300 years, when the Great Frost laid waste to Europe.
The eye-watering plunge, even worse than analysts had predicted, fueled frantic call for the two-metre rule strangling the hospitality and retail sectors to be eased. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been leading a push in Cabinet, and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack broke cover today to signal he supports the move to ‘save people’s livelihoods’.
Mr Johnson insisted this afternoon that infections were still too high for an immediate change, but raised speculation of an imminent change by adding that ‘as we make further progress I hope to say more’.
He said the UK economy was bound to be hit hard by the pandemic because of its reliance on services, but added that the country is ‘resilient’ and ‘dynamic’. Pointing to the massive government support through furlough and other bailouts, he said: ‘We will bounce back.’
Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey also tried to put a brave face on the data, saying it was ‘not surprising’. ‘We see signs of the economy now beginning to come back into… we do see that,’ he said.
‘It’s early days, and obviously I don’t want to emphasise too much. It’s a gradual coming back into life but we do see those signs.’
The CBI says halving the distance to one metre – regarded as a ‘minimum’ by experts – could double the level of activity possible for firms.
Meanwhile, school leaders have warned there is no chance of Mr Johnson fulfilling his promise to get all children back into classrooms by September unless the guidance is overhauled.