People could be allowed within two metres of each other when the UK’s coronavirus lockdown measures are eased, the government says.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said the government is looking at a “range of methods” to allow Britons to get closer than two metres apart.
Under current instructions, people should only go outside for food, health reasons, one form of exercise, or work (but only if they cannot work from home).
If people do go outside, they must stay 2 metres (or 6ft) away from others.
Ministers will, according to law, review the restrictions on Thursday, three weeks after they were extended. On Sunday, Boris Johnson is expected to announce his “road map” for easing the lockdown.
On Monday, Wallace said a number of methods, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and shields, could allow people to be less than two metres apart for periods.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think there are lots of ways, there’s PPE, there’s use of time.
“You could be closer than two metres but not for long at all. There are a range of ways to do this.
“And if it’s very vital you work next to each other then potentially things like shields that you see in supermarkets, or indeed PPE, is a way forward.”
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Wallace, who described his own battle with COVID-19 as "bloody awful”, told Sky News the social distancing rule could be relaxed to allow people to go back to work.
"You can look at shielding, you can look at how long you stay near people,” he said.
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“The two-metre rule reduces the possibility of infection by a certain amount of time.
"If you halve that it still keeps people away from being infected but for a lesser time. The probability of being infected is much less.”
Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and director of research charity Wellcome Trust, said there is “nothing magical” about the two-metre rule, saying time in close contact is also key.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “It’s based on old data about how far when we cough and we sneeze that the droplets and the aerosols that may come from that spread.
“There’s nothing magical about two metres. Perhaps more importantly is the time you spend in contact with somebody else. Not just the distance but also the time.”
Wallace said the public will be “perfectly able” to take on board the next stage of the government’s lockdown advice when it is announced.
"I strongly believe the public aren't stupid,” he said. “They read advice, they listen to the media.
"I'm totally confident when it comes to the next step we will all together be able to move forward."
He said the government is trying to source as many face masks as possible in case it changes the advice to recommend the public wears them.