In late March 2020, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson placed the entirety of the UK in a nationwide lockdown in order to combat overwhelming cases of the coronavirus. At the beginning of June, lockdown restrictions began to ease as different households were allowed to meet outside in parks and private gardens. Following this, slowly, workplaces and shops were allowed to open, restaurants and pubs unlocked their doors, and generally, business by business, the economy began to reboot. At the start of August, those from extremely vulnerable groups were allowed to cease shielding. Social distancing guidelines, including obligatory mask wearing, have been firmly in place and some restrictions are still yet to be lifted. Local outbreaks of the virus have instigated the lockdown of specific cities or districts. However, a recent surge in cases across the UK has meant that the UK government will begin to re-impose restrictions, beginning by legally banning any gatherings of six or more people.
At the beginning of lockdown in March, the UK placed a ban on gatherings of more than two people, excluding those that you live with. Now, current guidelines, generally allow two households of any size to meet up indoors or outdoors, and up to 6 people from different households outdoors, expanding to a higher limit of 30 people – which is only supposed to benefit special occasions such as community gatherings, weddings, funerals etc.
Therefore, previously, the police have had no power to stop gatherings under 30, making it difficult to enforce a limit on gatherings. The law change will ban all groups of over six people meeting either indoors or outdoors and begin on the 14th of September 2020. However, restrictions still will not apply to schools, workplaces and COVID-secure events such as weddings, funerals and organised sports.
Although, official rules will not change that much, placing restrictions into law will mean that police will now have the power to enforce said restrictions, fining those groups who exceed six persons. Fines will begin at £100, doubling on each offence to a maximum of £3200. This will also mean, that households of six will not be able to meet up with other family members or households, unless individually. The same applies to households of five, who, for example, may want to host two grandparents but instead will have to host one at a time.
The rule applies to both private homes, and social premises such as pubs, restaurants and outdoor spaces. Boris Johnson, insisted that this was not indicative of another lockdown but instead a preventative measure. Speculation suggests that the government is prepared for a possible growth in cases as the autumn and winter seasons draw in.
In advance of the press conference that announced these changes, Boris Johnson stated: “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.”
Detailed information on these changes are still yet to be published but comes after a sharp rise in the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus, almost 8500 people were recorded as having the virus in England in the days prior to the announcement. On the day of announcement, 2659 coronavirus cases were reported, making it the fourth day that over 2000 cases were recorded. Over the preceding week, cases rose from 12.5 infections per 100,000 people to 19.7 infections per 100,000 people nationally.
The BBC quoted Professor Sir Jeremy Farrar, member of the government’s scientific advisory committee who said the next four to six weeks “will be absolutely pivotal to the sort of autumn and winter we have. So I am very supportive of the restrictions coming in and sincerely hope they are going to be enough.”
These changes came after criticism that the government was issuing complicated and confusing social distancing rules. Other announcements and alterations to government guidelines included that venues such as pubs and restaurants will legally have to request and store contact details of visitors for the NHS test and trace system. Business opening hours could be restricted if cases continue to rise, yet at the moment these restrictions are limited to local breakout areas.
“Covid-secure marshals” will be recruited to insure social distancing in towns and cities. Border force will increase enforcement of quarantine rules, a passenger locator form will need to be filled out to implement quarantine rules. Further, larger audiences hoped to be able to attend events and venues will now be revised and the government will review its plans for larger events as a whole.