Extending the ‘two-metre rule’ around social distancing to three metres and making the use of face masks outdoors mandatory are not needed, England’s deputy chief medical officer has said. 

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said he could not see how droplets containing the virus would gain the extra distance "like in the long jump".

Reports have suggested Government scientists want the recommended gap increased from one metre, if mitigation measures such as masks or screens are in place, to two metres.

That would mean an increase in distancing from two metres to three metres without mitigation.

Prof Van-Tam told LBC Radio: "The question you are asking is whether the new variant is really going to be capable of moving a greater distance, and that doesn’t kind of fit with my biological understanding, because the distance relates to the force of the cough or the sneeze or the respiratory droplet that flies out of you.

"Unless we were saying that the variant makes you cough in a different way or cough more violently, I can’t see how you can gain that extra distance, like in the long jump as it were."

It comes as leaders in London including Mayor Sadiq Khan have called for tighter restrictions in the capital amid a surge of cases. 

Mr Khan said: "London’s cases are worse than in March, yet our restrictions are looser. We’re also dealing with a more transmissible strain of the virus. This cannot continue. London leaders and I are left with little choice but to ask the Government to tighten measures.

"These are our main asks, to be implemented immediately:

  • Close places of worship
  • Make wearing face masks outdoors mandatory
  • Accelerate the rollout of vaccines across London
  • Provide better financial support for Londoners who need to self-isolate and can’t work"
  • London Covid-19 cases and tier map

    Mr Khan has also written to Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, saying the measures he announced on Friday covering international travel did not go far enough.

    While passengers now need a negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before travel, Mr Khan said more detail was needed on what type of tests were required.

    He said the continued reliance on spot checks by the UK’s Border Force to ensure recent arrivals were self-isolating fell far short of rules on quarantine and enforcement used in other countries, as did the £500 fine for non-compliance and cabin crews being exempt from the regulations.

    It comes after the NHS medical director for London warned on Tuesday that the capital’s hospitals faced an increasingly dire situation.

    Dr Vin Diwakar said London now had almost 8,000 Covid-19 inpatients, compared to 4,000 on December 25.