London: The new so-called “rule of six” has come into effect in England from Monday, which would give the police the power to enforce rules against gatherings larger than six members with a fine of 100 pounds.
The new rule — announced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week amid another spike in coronavirus cases — applies both indoors and outdoors in England and Scotland, and indoors only in Wales.
“Across the country, we have all made enormous sacrifices in the fight against coronavirus. However, the recent rise in cases makes it clear that more needs to be done to stop the spread of this disease,” said UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.
“From Monday new laws will enable the police to fine anyone in breach of the rule of six. As we continue to fight this virus, I urge the public not to participate in social gatherings of more than six people in any setting, indoors or outdoors,” the Indian-origin minister said.
In England, the restrictions affect everyone including young children but for the devolved administrations of Wales and Scotland 11 and 12-year-old children are exempt from the rule.
Other exceptions to the rules mean that many activities involving bigger numbers will still be able to take place, including at schools, workplaces, weddings and funerals with up to 30 people.
The Home Office claims that the “rule of six” simplifies and strengthens the rules on social gatherings, making them easier to understand and easier for the police to enforce.
It means that any social gatherings of more than six people will be against the law, apart from a set of limited exemptions including work and education.
The police will be able to disperse any such gatherings and fine individuals involved 100 pounds, doubling up to a maximum of 3,200 pounds for repeat offences.
Rules for organisers and facilitators of larger gatherings of more than 30 people such as unlicensed music events remain subject to fines of up to 10,000 pounds.
Johnson has spoken to the police force about enforcement and the new lower limit will make it easier for police to identify illegal gatherings.
Police forces say they have continued to step up patrols in recent weeks and have cracked down on illegal gatherings during the pandemic.
Deployments in some areas of concern such as Leicester and Greater Manchester, have been larger than on New Year’s Eve, the Home Office said.
“We will be deploying resources across the capital to engage with groups of more than six to highlight the risks and regulations. Where necessary, officers will enforce the regulations, said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, leading the Metropolitan Police’s response to COVID-19.
“We will be working closely with the London boroughs and their enforcement teams, and doing all we can to persuade Londoners to take the threat seriously. Where people just won’t listen, and are putting everyone at risk, we absolutely will take enforcement action,” he said.
“We’re part of the group that are trying to explain to members of the public what the rules are and encouraging people to comply with them,” added National Police Chiefs’ Council Chairman Martin Hewitt.
Venues following COVID-19 secure guidelines, such as places of worship, gyms, restaurants and other hospitality venues, can still hold more than six people in total.
But within those venues, there must not be individual groups larger than six, and groups must not mix socially or form larger groups.
Amid some civil liberty concerns, the government has said the rule will be kept under constant review and will only remain in place as long as is necessary.
The new rules are introduced as the UK’s rate of infection (R number), mounted to between 1 and 1.2 for the first time since March, indicating the pandemic is again spreading significantly in the community since the lockdown has been gradually eased in phases.
A further 3,330 positive cases were recorded in the UK on Sunday, the third consecutive day in which cases have been over 3,000. With five more deaths reported, the country-wide coronavirus toll now stands at 41,628, with over 370,000 confirmed cases.