BORIS Johnson has held out the future prospect of reducing the two-metre rule on social distancing as his chief scientific adviser warned that currently there was "relatively little room for manoeurvre" in easing lockdown restrictions further south of the Border.

The rule is seen as a major obstacle in full resumption of the hospitality sector even though the UK Government is considering relaxing the lockdown restrictions for pubs, cafes and hotels from July south of the Border. A relaxation would also help boost the numbers on public transport.

However, earlier this week, research, partly funded by the World Health Organisation, suggested reducing social distancing advice from two metres to one could double the risk of coronavirus infection.

At the daily Downing St press conference Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, referred to the two-metre rule, designed to stop any transmission of the infection, saying it and other measures like wearing face masks would “carry on really for as long as this epidemic continues”.

Moments later, however, the Prime Minister insisted the country was “beating the disease” and would continue to do so if everyone worked together.

He said: “We are seeing continuous falls in the disease, the deaths and incidence, that’s why we have been able to take the very cautious steps we have. We want to take some more steps to unlock our society and try to get back to as normal as possible.

“Eventually, I would like to do such things as reducing the two-metre rule, for instance, but all those changes and future progress depends entirely on our ability to keep reducing the incidence and driving down the disease.”

Meanwhile, Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, warned, despite some figures, there could be 8,000 new cases of coronavirus a day in the UK.

He explained while the latest figures showed more than 1,800 a day had tested positive, data from the Office for National Statistics suggested the true figure was significantly higher.

At the same time, Sir Patrick noted, the R rate of transmission was still close to one, which meant the numbers were not coming down quickly.

"We have relatively large numbers still not coming down fast. That gives relatively little room for manoeuvre. We have to tread very cautiously," he warned.

Sir Patrick said the number of deaths was also coming down yet noted: “But it is not coming down as fast as we would like it to come down."

At the press conference, Mr Johnson also:

*defended the Government’s 14-day quarantine policy for travellers to the UK, saying it was necessary to help manage the “risk of these imported cases triggering a second peak" but also made clear he would “explore the possibility of international travel corridors with countries that have low rates of infection but only when the evidence shows it is safe to do so";

*acknowledged there would “tragically…be many, many job losses" as a result of the outbreak but promised the Government would take an "activist" and “interventionist” in its approach to reviving the economy, stressing that it was "vital" to ensure young people who were likely to be the hardest hit were guaranteed apprenticeships and

*urged people, now that the weather was worsening, not to move social gatherings outdoors indoors, saying: “I really urge you: don't do that. We relaxed the rules on meeting outside for a very specific reason because the evidence shows the risks of transmission are much lower outdoors. The risks of passing on the virus are significantly higher indoors, which is why gatherings inside other people's homes are still prohibited. Breaking these rules now could undermine and reverse all the progress that we've made together. I have no doubt that won't happen."