In the biggest crackdown since COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased, social gatherings of more than six people (with certain exceptions) will be illegal in England from Monday onwards.
The new regulations were introduced following the latest public health data, which indicated an alarming increase in the number of daily cases. As of Tuesday, more than 2,400 new cases of COVID-19 were registered, with the seven-day average of positive tests now way above any period since the initial peak of the pandemic.
NHS Test and Trace data has shown the most widespread source of infection is visitors to households and close contact within home settings. Such instances are far ahead of shops, leisure venues and workplaces in terms of frequency of COVID-19 transmission. Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned young people to take extra precautions to prevent the virus’ spread to older and more vulnerable family members, saying, "Don't kill your gran by catching coronavirus and then passing it on."
Under the new restrictions, a maximum of six people will be permitted to meet indoors or outdoors. Some exceptions apply – for example:
- Households and support bubbles bigger than six people.
- Gatherings for work or education.
- COVID-19 secure weddings or funerals.
- Organised team sports.
Apart from the above exceptions, any group greater than seven which gathers in an indoor or outdoor location risks being penalised for non-compliance. First offenders will be fined £100, an amount that will be doubled on each repeat offence up to a maximum of £3,200.
In addition to individual restrictions, pubs, restaurants, and other establishments will now also be required by law to collect customers' details to conduct contact tracing, instead of it just being voluntary.
Feedback from the police force has shown that at present, there is too much ambiguity in regulations for them to break up public gatherings effectively. Current guidance allows for two households of any size to meet indoors or outdoors or a maximum of six people from different homes outdoors. The new rules are expected to make it easier to identify and disperse large gatherings, which carry a greater risk of attracting and spreading the virus.
The move has been welcomed by health experts and policymakers who have been warning the public against relaxing too much amidst the current restrictions. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick had expressed concern earlier this week about the increasing number of cases, urging young people to exercise caution and continue social distancing to prevent further infection.
Downing Street has also claimed that the increasing number of COVID-19 cases is following a similar trend to other countries across Europe, with growing infection rates now causing widespread hospitalisations in both Spain and France.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to provide further details on the latest guidance in a press conference, which will also revive the previous government advertising campaign called “Hands. Face. Space.”