Previous advice said firms 'must' ensure 2m rule was upheld

Companies are only required to ensure there is a 2m distance between employees “where possible”, according to the latest government advice.

An announcement by the Cabinet Office and ministry of housing said: "Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able to follow PHE guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2m distance from others, and washing their hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available)."

The previous version of the advice, issued on Tuesday, said businesses wishing to remain open "must ensure a distance of 2m" between staff and customers.

Yesterday, the Federation of Master Builders said only emergency and critical construction work should be allowed to continue during the coronavirus outbreak.

Brian Berry, the federation’s chief executive, said: “It is almost impossible to follow Public Health England’s social distancing advice on many sites and it would therefore be safer to close them.”

In Scotland the newly-established Construction Industry Coronavirus (CICV) forum has moved to provide clarity for the sector in following advice from first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday that all building sites with the exception of any hospital work should close.

There had been concerns about conflicting messages from the UK and Scottish governments about what construction work could be undertaken.

The forum is recommending to its members, which include many micro and small businesses, that they follow the first minister’s advice about closing non-essential building sites.

It also recommends firms only carry out required repair and maintenance or any emergency work until further notice and suspend other work such as building extensions, installing kitchens and bathroom suites or rewiring properties in the meantime.

2m rule

Shoppers keep their distance as they wait to get into a food store in north London