Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Communities told to report neighbours to police if rule of six breached

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Critics claim the restrictions are confusing, will keep families apart and are unenforceable. The changes forbid “mingling” but sports, weddings and some protests are allowed. No 10 insisted it had to act to curb the spread of the killer disease and urged the public to keep playing its part in keeping the nation safe.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said police would use their discretion on first time offenders in the next couple of days but will come down hard on those who are regular rule-breakers.

He said: “What you would expect to happen is for the police to be out today encouraging people to follow the new rules but in the coming days, if we see people continuing to flout the new rules, it is right that people could face a fine.

“The regulations are in place to help to stop the spread of the virus, to protect the NHS and to ultimately save lives.

“What we want people to be focused on is following the new rules and ensuring that they, themselves, help again as they have in the past to slow the spread of the virus.”

No 10 said there had been “egregious flouting of the rules” over summer, with some people holding large house parties.

It believes the new six-person limit makes the law clearer for police and the public.

But police were braced for the rules to be broken as temperatures soared across the country.

Police have the power to break up groups and offenders will face fines of up to £3,200.

Home Office minister Kit Malthouse said anyone with concerns about groups of seven or more should call the 101 non-emergency police line.

He said: “We are in discussions about what reporting mechanisms there might be, but there is obviously the non-emergency number that people can ring and report issues they wish to.

“It is open to neighbours to do exactly that through the non-emergency number, and if they are concerned and they do see that kind of thing, then absolutely they should think about it.”

Mr Malthouse said he had cancelled his own child’s birthday party to avoid breaking the rules.

“You cannot meet socially in groups of more than six in England and that includes children,” he added.

“While I understand that people will say ‘they are mixing in school anyway’, this is not about eliminating contact, it’s about limiting contact.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is self-isolating after a member of his household showed possible coronavirus symptoms, said that he supported the rule of six restrictions.

“I think you need something simple, easily understood and I think the Government was slow back in February and March to appreciate the problem it was about the face and we can’t repeat that error again, so I do support the rule of six,” he said.

“We’ve publicly come out in support of it and I will say, as I said to the Prime Minister I would, as the leader of the Opposition I say to everybody, please follow the Government advice, please follow these rules.”

He added: “You can make the argument of why not five or why not six or seven – you have to go with a number backed by the science and they say six and I think we should abide by that rule.”

The new laws in England forbid any social gathering of more than six people indoors or outside and the total includes all age groups, unlike in Scotland and Wales where younger children are not counted.

But schools and workplaces are exempt and team sports can still go ahead under the changes in England. Small weddings and funerals attended by up to 30 people are also allowed.

Seven or more people can gather indoors for settings operated by a business, charities and public bodies but only in groups of up to six.

I say to everybody, please follow the Government advice, please follow these rules

Sir Keir Starmer

The regulations state they must not “mingle” with anyone outside their own group.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said: “It’s illegal to mingle. What does mingle mean?

“Is saying hello to someone at a gathering ‘mingling’? What about holding the door open for them?”

The regulations were introduced after a spike in coronavirus cases across the UK, with more than 3,000 cases recorded for the third day in a row on Sunday – the first time since May that cases were above 3,000 on three consecutive days.

Martin Hewitt, the National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman, insisted enforcing the rule of six relies on people being responsible rather than “grassing up” their neighbours.

“We all have a responsibility to do what we can do, to take the steps that are required to stop the transmission and to abide by regulations so we can prevent this disease moving further through the country,” he said.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolitan Police Force’s coronavirus response, said officers will be sent out across London to patrol public spaces to tackle large groups.

“Where people just won’t listen, and are putting everyone at risk, we absolutely will take enforcement action,” he said.

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