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A ban on groups of more than six people gathering in homes, parks, pubs and restaurants in England is being imposed by Boris Johnson in the biggest coronavirus crackdown since lockdown rules were eased.
First offenders will be fined £100, which will double on each further repeat offence up to £3,200, the prime minister will announce in a bid to stem an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases in the UK.
“We need to act now to stop the virus spreading,” Mr Johnson will declare at a Downing Street news conference coinciding with a new government advertising campaign entitled “Hands. Face. Space.”
“So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact, making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce,” the PM will announce.
“It is absolutely critical that people now abide by these rules and remember the basics – washing your hands, covering your face, keeping space from others, and getting a test if you have symptoms.”
The crackdown comes after warnings from government medical chiefs that the public – particularly young people – are now too relaxed about coronavirus, with the result that COVID-19 rates are now above 20 per 100,000 people.
The PM’s announcement follows the Health Secretary Matt Hancock imposing a ban on socialising with people from other households in Bolton, with restaurants in the town limited to serving takeaway food and a 10pm-5am curfew on all venues.
Ahead of Mr Hancock’s Bolton announcement, England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, warned of a “bumpy ride over the next few months” unless the virus was taken “incredibly seriously”.
The health secretary also issued a warning to young people this week not to spread the virus to older, more vulnerable relatives, telling people in their late teens and early 20s: “Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on.”
Mr Johnson will announce that from next Monday any gathering over six people will be illegal, unless it meets one of a limited list of exemptions: a household or support bubble of more than six or a gathering for work or education.
Further exemptions will also apply, such as for weddings, funerals, and organised team sports in a COVID secure way.
The full list of exemptions will be revealed by the government before the law changes on Monday.
Explaining the reasons for the new crackdown, Downing Street sources claim putting the new, lower limit in law will make it easier for the police to identify and disperse illegal gatherings.
The new rules follow a Zoom roundtable the prime minister had with police forces last week, where officers expressed their desire for rules on social contact to be simplified.
According to No 10, cabinet ministers, the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance have jointly agreed that urgent action is necessary after seeing the number of daily positive cases rise to almost 3,000 recently.
The latest figures reveal there were a further 2,460 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday, following 2,948 on Monday and 2,988 on Sunday, which was the largest daily figure since May.
The government says the new rules will apply across England, to all ages, to gatherings indoors and outdoors, in private homes, public outdoor spaces and venues such as pubs and restaurants.
Downing Street claims the rise in UK cases is following a similar pattern to other European countries, with increasing infection rates causing rising hospitalisations in Spain and France and deaths in Spain now rising too.
The new government public information campaign will highlight how everyone can help stop the spread of the virus by remembering to wash their hands, cover their face and make space.
“Hands. Face. Space” will run across TV, radio, newspapers, online, billboards and display displays at bus stops and other transport venues, with a new video being released to show exactly how coronavirus spreads indoors.
Downing Street says that with people expected to spend more time inside during the winter, the film – produced with the help of scientific experts – encourages the public to follow simple steps to reduce the risk of infection.