Scientists report flaws in WHO study on two-metre distancing

Senior scientists have reported flaws in an influential World Health Organization study into the risks of coronavirus infection and say it should not be used as evidence for relaxing the UK’s two-metre physical distancing rule. “I’m very suspicious of it.” Prof Kevin McConway, an applied statistician at the Open University, went further and called the analysis inappropriate. Doubts about the WHO study emerged as Boris Johnson announced a formal review of the two-metre physical distancing rule, which is expected to report by 4 July, the earliest date pubs and restaurants may reopen in England. In recent weeks, Johnson has come under intense pressure from Tory MPs to relax the advice to help businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector. Led by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, the WHO report pooled data from previously published studies to estimate the risk of becoming infected with coronavirus at different distances. It does not support, and should not beused in, arguments about how much greater the risk is with a one-metre limit versus a two-metre limit.” Another scientist, Prof Ben Cowling at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control at the University of Hong Kong, flagged further issues with the work. “The evidence used to inform this guidance was based on a systematic review of all available, relevant observational studies concerning protective measures to prevent transmission of the coronaviruses that cause Sars, Mers and Covid-19.