Health

End of party as government prepares ban on gatherings of more than six people



A legal ban on gatherings of more than six people was being discussed by the Cabinet today as it prepared to crack down on waves of parties being held in defiance of social distancing guidance.

New social distancing rules backed up by fines of £100 will be announced within days following an alert over surging cases of coronavirus, particularly among young people.

The Government is expected to cut the maximum size of gatherings allowed by law from 30 to a lower figure, possibly as low as six. The move would empower police to break up gatherings of under 30 at people’s homes for the first time and impose fines on offenders.


At the same time, minsters will issue strong warnings that if the current increase in the spread of the virus is not checked, family plans for get-togethers at Christmas will be affected.

The move follows an alarming analysis of data by the Joint Biosecurity Centre which has told Downing Street that, according to one source, “infections are rising steeply” and that Britain could face the same upwards spiral as France and Spain.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick this morning appealed to younger people to moderate their behaviour and follow Government guidelines on social distancing.

“We have to keep hammering the message home. Of course the people in those age categories are unlikely to become extremely unwell as a result of having the virus but they are able to pass it on to others,” he said.

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“There’s a responsibility on younger people to not just stay at home, obviously to go out and go to work and to enjoy pubs and restaurants, but do so in accordance with the guidelines.”

Robert Jenrick on coronavirus: Caution needed in autumn and winter

Current official guidance says that no more than six people should gather together in gardens, and only two households can meet inside a home.

It is against the law for gatherings of more than 30 people to take place in private homes, including gardens and other outdoor spaces, or in a public outdoors space, unless planned by a host organisation that complies with social distancing.

Police currently only have powers to break up gatherings of 30-plus. “We are looking at the idea of more enforcement of the rules,” said a Government source.

Ministers are ordering the tighter restrictions after the number of daily new Covid-19 cases announced soared to nearly 3,000 yesterday and on Sunday.

Coronavirus in numbers: Cases in UK rise by 2,948

The numbers were already on the rise in earlier days following a fall in the summer months which had left many people feeling the disease was under control.

But with autumn and winter approaching, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told BBC Breakfast that the UK would need to be “especially cautious” of coronavirus and that the public would have to adjust to a “new normal”.

He added: “As we approach the autumn and winter there is going to be even more responsibility on all of us to keep following the guidelines.

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“Nobody wants to see a return to full national restrictions of the kind we had earlier this year.”

With the number of cases rising particularly sharply among 17 to 21-year-olds, the Cabinet minister stressed that there was a particular responsibility on younger people to stick to social distancing rules.

“We have to keep hammering the message home. Of course the people in those age categories are unlikely to become extremely unwell as a result of having the virus but they are able to pass it on to others,” he said.

“There’s a responsibility on younger people to not just stay at home, obviously to go out and go to work and to enjoy pubs and restaurants, but do so in accordance with the guidelines.”

Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, is warning that the spread of Covid now appeared no longer to be linked just to a series of local outbreaks such as in Leicester and the North West but was on a “wider geographical basis”.

Jonathan Van Tam: Number of coronavirus cases needs to come down further

He also stressed that other European countries had already seen that a rise in young people getting the infection was “filtering” through to older generations and to increased hospitalisations, which are already increasing in France and Spain.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the latest increase in coronavirus cases was “very worrying”, with scientists monitoring the data closely for signs of wider community transmission of the disease.

“Generally it is local outbreaks, but there is also very worrying increases in cases, particularly over the last few days,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That is what we are really keeping a close eye on – the extent to which it moves away from these local outbreaks to broader community transmission.

“What we saw in the last few days from this surveillance data was this worrying increase in cases which, as we know from the first wave of the pandemic, can potentially get out of hand if we don’t be very serious about the control measures.”

Asked about how concerned he was about a second Covid-19 wave hitting the UK, David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation special envoy for coronavirus, told Sky News: “I’m afraid it’s coming.

“I don’t like calling it a second wave, I just say there are going to be more spikes and indeed some surges of cases because the virus has not changed.

“It’s just been lurking, we have been very good at holding it back through restricting movement and lockdowns but now as life gets going again and younger people are going to university, also there is some movement around with holidays, and of course work, then I’m afraid it does mean the virus is going to come back.”

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has said a local coronavirus lockdown is being imposed in Caerphilly because there is evidence of “community transmission” in the area.

Mr Gething said a failure to follow social distancing guidelines, and cases being imported from abroad, had resulted in an increase in the number of cases.

“If people do break the rules, we will be able to take enforcement action,” he said.

He said the local lockdown in the county borough of Caerphilly will not be lifted until October “at the very least”.

People will not be allowed to enter or leave the area without a reasonable excuse after the restrictions come into force at 6pm on Tuesday.

Everyone over the age of 11 will be required to wear face coverings in shops – the first time this will be mandatory in Wales.

Meetings with other people indoors and extended households will not be allowed, while overnight stays have also been banned.

The measures follow a spike in cases in Caerphilly county borough, where the Welsh Government says there have been 133 new Covid-19 cases over the past seven days.



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