Amid a steep rise in corona virus cases the new rules – which come into force on 14 September – mark a change to England’s current guidance. At present, the guidance says two households of any size are allowed to meet indoors or outdoors, or up to six people from different households outdoors. Until now the police have had no powers to stop gatherings unless they exceeded 30.
The law change will ban larger groups meeting anywhere socially indoors or outdoors, the government said. It will, however, not apply to schools, workplaces or Covid-secure weddings, funerals and organised team sports. Also households and support bubbles bigger than six have been permitted to socialise together – but not with anyone else at the same time – and gatherings can be more than six if it is for work or education purposes. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the new rules did not affect places of worship as that is “not a social gathering”. Further, Parkrun – which earlier this week announced it was to resume in England – is “unaffected” as it is an organised sport, its organisers said. A full list of exemptions is due to be published before the law changes.
The enforcement will be through a £100 fine if people fail to comply, doubling on each offence up to a maximum of £3,200.
Pubs and restaurants would be allowed to have more than six customers inside, but that the groups of six would have to be socially distant from each other. The rationale behind allowing this, but not allowing larger groups of people inside other people’s homes, is that businesses can only be open if they follow safety and hygiene measures set out by the government,
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the rules would be in place for the “foreseeable future”. “Three months is a long time in a pandemic and I very much hope this strong rule, together with the local action we’ve taken in places like Bolton… I very hope much therefore this can work to do that by Christmas.”
“Unfortunately we have seen this quite sharp rise in the last couple of weeks of people without symptoms who don’t have a good reason coming forward and getting a test,” he said, saying 25% of people who were getting a coronavirus test were not eligible. He went on to admit, “I’ve even heard stories of people saying ‘I’m going on holiday next week therefore I’m going to go get a test’. No. That’s not what the testing system is there for.”
Ministers yet need to comment on whether further restrictions will follow if the rise in infections is not curbed.