ONE of the country’s top microbiologists has called for the two-metre social distance rule to be relaxed to one metre in parts of Scotland.

Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said there was a strong case for easing the rule “north of Tayside”.

Physical distancing rules instructing Scots to stay two metres apart are under constant review, Nicola Sturgeon has said as figures show less than one in a thousand Scots are currently infectious with coronavirus.

The hospitality sector has urged a reduction in the distance, with firms warning they will go bust without a relaxing of the regulations.

Both the First Minister and her medical advisers have repeatedly said that the scientific evidence points towards two metres being the safest option.

The World Health Organisation has suggested a minimum one-metre rule. But Mr Pennington said: “They will have to go to one metre eventually otherwise a lot of businesses are going to go bust.

“It is about a balance between a lot of businesses ending up unprofitable and taking a risk.

“If you get the transmission rate right down in communities then the risk of transmission is low at one metre – it is obviously lower at two metres.

“But at the end of the day it depends on the amount of virus in the community.

“I think there is a good case now for having regional easing of the rules to one metre in places like Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, which must be the safest in the country.

“In fact I would say you could east the restrictions north of Tayside and make sure the testing was good enough to monitor the situation.

“You may have to put signs in shop windows etc explaining the increased risk of one-metre distancing. 

“There is the argument about the risks from asymptomatic spreaders and I think there is strong evidence that there are people who are quite infectious just before showing symptoms.

“There are no straightforward answers but saving businesses and people’s sanity must form part of the equation and I think regional relaxation should be tried.

“It is even more relevant to schools than the hospitality industry because the virus does not get around very well in schools – unlike flu.”

Interim chief medical officer Gregor Smith has pointed out the risks of a child picking up the virus, spreading it to their immediate family and then spreading it to an older family member who has a greater chance of becoming seriously ill.

Ms Sturgeon hopes to confirm later this week that Scotland is ready to move into phase two of lockdown easing measures.

Mr Pennington also suspects that clusters of outbreaks were responsible for nearly half of the total Covid-19 cases.

His remarks come after he previously criticised the Scottish Government for not stockpiling enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers because the last pandemic in 2009 was seen as a “non-event”.

He said in April that mistakes had been made with testing, believing that “we had a good test available from January 13”.

Mr Pennington added: “We could have done a lot more to get that test rolling in many, many centres."