Social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England from Monday as the Government seeks to curb the rise in coronavirus cases.
The tough new rules see the size of groups people can meet in slashed from 30 – with fines of up to £3200 for those who break the rules.
The announcement came just hours after Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied the Government has “lost control” of the coronavirus pandemic, despite new cases more than doubling.
For a second day running, almost 3,000 new cases of Covid-19 were recorded yesterday. Just a week ago, the daily total was less than 1,300.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will use a press conference on Wednesday to announce the change in the law after the number of daily positive Covid-19 cases in the UK rose to almost 3,000.
But the delay in introducing the rule, which won’t come into until after the weekend in six days time, raised fears the virus could begin to spread uncontrollably again.
The clampdown, which ministers hope will make it easier for police to disperse crowds, will apply both indoors and outdoors – including private homes, as well as parks, pubs and restaurants.
The change was agreed by both the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor after a series of crisis meeting across Whitehall on Tuesday.
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
Exemptions will also apply for weddings, funerals and organised team sports in a Covid-secure way.
Mr Johnson is expected to say: “We need to act now to stop the virus spreading. So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact – making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce.
“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.”
People found breaking the new rule will face a £100 fine, which will double on each further repeat offence up to £3200.
It came after it was revealed that the rise in the percentage of positive results in tests suggests the increase is not simply down to more testing.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, said: “People have relaxed too much. This is a continuing threat. This is no longer about the disease in specific hotspots, such as Leicester and the North West. There is a general and creeping geographic trend across the UK. Disease levels are now beginning to turn up on a wider geographical basis.
“We’ve got to start taking this very seriously again.”
Five boroughs in Greater Manchester are on “red alert” – and the region has recorded its highest daily number of cases since April.
Bolton, Oldham, Salford, Tameside and Manchester are all on the highest alert level – imposed when new weekly infections go above 50 per 100,000 population. Rochdale had a rate of 49.5 in the week to last Thursday.
An entire year group at a secondary school in Salford has been forced to self-isolate three days after going back, after one positive case. And up to 300 people who went to a charity football game in Sunderland were told to self-isolate, as schools, restaurants and businesses across the North shut.
Mr Hancock agreed the spike, after dramatic rises in Spain and France, was “concerning”, adding: “Nobody wants to see a second wave here.” But he confirmed the public were still having to travel up to 75 miles for tests.
The Government’s website also claimed it had run out of home-testing kits as its “test and trace” system was thrown into further chaos. The Health Secretary admitted there had been “operational issues” after a caller from Nottingham on LBC Radio said he had been told to drive to Dundee. Mr Hancock insisted: “The vast majority of people get access to a test at their local testing centre.
“But there have been problems and we are increasing capacity.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “What are people who can’t afford a car supposed to do?
“Those who work shifts and have childcare and other caring responsibilities? We were promised ‘world-beating’, not this shambles.”
Government officials insisted they had not run out of tests – claiming they paused the booking portal for short periods during high demand.
Mr Hancock said the sharp rise was worst in “affluent” youngsters aged 17 to 21, prompting new fears over students returning to university.
He warned: “This argument saying you don’t need to worry because it’s younger people and they don’t die?
“Firstly, they can get very, very ill. And secondly it leads to older people catching it from them.” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted back-to-school plans are on track despite several outbreaks.
But Prof Gabriel Scally, a former NHS regional director of public health for the South West, said: “They’ve lost control of the virus. It’s no longer small outbreaks they can stamp on.”
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