Social gatherings of more than six in England are to be made illegal
- Credit: PA
The government is to make social gatherings of more than six people illegal in England from Monday in a bid to stop the rise in coronavirus cases.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce the change in the law on Wednesday after the number of daily positive Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to almost 3,000.
The legal limit on social gatherings will be reduced from 30 people to six.
It will apply to gatherings indoors and outdoors - including private homes, as well as parks, pubs and restaurants.
Gatherings of more than six people will be allowed where the household or support bubble is larger than six, or where the gathering is for work or education purposes.
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Exemptions will also apply for weddings, funerals and organised team sports in a Covid-secure way.
And health secretary Matt Hancock said the ban on gatherings of more than six people will be in place for the “foreseeable future”.
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He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s absolutely therefore the foreseeable future. I really hope we can turn this round before Christmas.
“I think that, in a pandemic, Christmas is a long way off.
“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.”
Mr Johnson is expected to tell the press conference that “we need to act now to stop the virus spreading”.
He will also reinforce that 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.”
Downing Street said chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and the Government had jointly agreed that urgent action was needed after the rise in coronavirus cases.
Some 2,420 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were recorded in Britain as of 9am on Tuesday, following the 2,988 reported in the UK on Sunday, which was the largest daily figure since May.
The government hopes that the change to the law will make it easier for the police to identify and disperse illegal gatherings.
Failure to comply could result in a £100 fine, which will double on each repeat offence up to £3,200.
Number 10 said Mr Johnson held a virtual round table with police forces last week where officers expressed their desire for rules on social contact to be simplified.
The Police Federation of England and Wales urged the government to “play its part” through a public information campaign after “so many changes in legislation”.
Mr Hancock has said that the new rules on social distancing will apply to students gearing up for university freshers week.
Mr Hancock told LBC the goal was to get the rise in infections under control so that “we can have the sort of Christmas that everyone wants to see”.
He said he was “absolutely” expecting students to limit themselves to parties of six during freshers week, saying: “Obviously it is not something I would want to do, but unfortunately, yes, because otherwise we know the spread of the disease is going to keep going up and up.
“We know that that leads to more people in hospital and more people dying.”
Meanwhile, a new campaign has been launched to encourage people to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The “Hands Face Space” campaign urges people to ensure they have washed their hands, used a mask where appropriate and maintain social distancing.
The campaign states that these are the three most effective ways the public can contain the spread of the virus.
The advert highlights how the virus spreads in indoor setting - which is particularly pertinent as winter approaches.
England’s chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty said: “As we approach winter and inevitably spend more time indoors, we need the public to keep following this important advice to control the spread of the virus.
“’Hands. Face. Space’ emphasises important elements of the guidance we want everybody to remember: wash your hands regularly, use a face covering when social distancing is not possible and try to keep your distance from those not in your household.
“Following these simple steps could make a significant difference in reducing the transmission of Covid-19 and help protect you and your friends, colleagues and family from the virus.”
The campaign highlights how the novel coronavirus can live for more than 24 hours in indoor environments - it is not likely to survive for long periods of time on outdoor surfaces in sunlight. Regular hand washing and the use of hand sanitiser can also help reduce a person’s risk of catching the virus and passing it on.
It demonstrates how people’s respiratory droplets can spread and how wearing a mask can reduce dispersal of droplets.
And it shows how maintaining a safe distance means the virus is less likely to be transmitted.
*People can access a free test by visiting nhs.uk or calling 119.
Mr Hancock has also announced it will be compulsory for pubs and restaurants to take customers’ details for the Test and Trace programme.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re also going to enforce more strictly the rules around hospitality, including for instance you need to give your contact details when you go to hospitality, which has so far been voluntary.
“Large swathes of the hospitality industry have followed it.
“Some have chosen not to, so we’re going to make that compulsory as well.”
*How will the new rules on social gatherings of no more than six people affect you? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via Facebook or Twitter.