Parents taking their children to school could be dispersed by police or even fined for stopping for a chat in the street under the coronavirus ‘rule of six’, the government warned today.
Downing Street and Home Secretary Priti Patel warned a family of four could face police action if they stop to chat to another family of four.
Gatherings of more than six people are now banned in England, apart from a string of exemptions such as in offices, schools or organised sport.
People are allowed to go to pubs and restaurants, but only in groups of six or less – and it will be illegal to “mingle” with other groups at the venue.
Ms Patel sowed confusion today when she claimed it also counted as “mingling” to stop and chat with another family in the street.
Technically the offence of “mingling” only applies to events or venues, rather than meeting in the street.
However, Downing Street made clear that no matter what it’s called, it is still illegal to meet in a group of more than six – even briefly.
Ms Patel claimed two families of four stopping for a chat on the way to the park is “absolutely mingling”.
“You have got to put this in the context of coronavirus and keeping distance, wearing masks,” she told the BBC.
“The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people’s health at risk.”
The Home Secretary added: “Mingling is people coming together. That is my definition of mingling.”
Asked to clarify if families could be “stopped and fined” if they bump into friends on the way to schools or the shops, a No10 spokesman said: “We’re clear we don’t want people to gather in groups of more than six.
“If you gather in a group of six or over, obviously you can expect the police to ask you to disperse.
“As we’ve been clear throughout, everybody has a rule to play in reducing transmission of the virus and that’s what the rules are there to try and achieve.”
Asked if a conversation in the street involving more than six people could be enough for a fine, the No10 spokesman replied: “As I’ve said, if you gather in a group of over six you can expect the police to ask you to disperse.”
No10 did not explicitly threaten fines for people who stop to chat in the street.
However, the law allows police to fine anyone they believe has broken the law, including if they refuse to disperse when asked.