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Coronavirus: Report ‘rule of six’ breaches, minister urges

Police speak to a large group gathered in a park in central London Image copyright Getty Images

People should report their neighbours for any suspected breaches of new “rule of six” limits on social gatherings, the crime minister has said.

Kit Malthouse urged residents to pass on details of suspected law-breaking through non-emergency numbers.

From today, new rules restrict indoor and outdoor gatherings in England and Scotland, and indoor groups in Wales.

They come after the UK’s reproduction, or R, number escalated to between one and 1.2 for the first time since March.

There were a further 2,621 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK on Monday, a fall after three consecutive days with more than 3,000 positive tests – amid widespread concerns about the availability of testing.

Nine more deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether a person should report a gathering of seven or more in a neighbour’s garden, Mr Malthouse said: “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.”

The crime and policing minister added there were “discussions about what reporting mechanisms there might be, but there is obviously the non-emergency number (101) that people can ring and report issues they wish to”.

National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) chairman Martin Hewitt denied that enforcement of the rule of six relied on people “grassing up” their neighbours.

“It relies on all of us being responsible,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“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.”

At-a-glance: What are the new rules?

  • Social gatherings of more than six people in England, Scotland and Wales will not be allowed in law from Monday 14 September with some exceptions
  • The new rule applies to people in private homes, indoors and outdoors, and places such as pubs, restaurants, cafes and public outdoor spaces
  • In Scotland, the rule applies to a maximum of two households and in Wales it applies to the same extended household
  • It applies to all ages in England, but not to those aged 12 and under in Scotland, and those under 11 in Wales in those households
  • The rule does not apply to schools, universities and workplaces, or weddings, funerals and organised team sports
  • A full list of exemptions has been published in England
  • People who ignore police could be fined £100 – doubling with each offence to a maximum of £3,200

Home Secretary Priti Patel urged the public not to break the rules, saying the recent rise in cases made it clear more needed to be done to stop the spread of the virus.

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC he backed the rules, adding: “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.”

Later, it was announced Sir Keir would self-isolate, after a family member showed possible coronavirus symptoms.

Prof Bobby Duffy, director of King’s College London’s policy institute, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One it was “relatively rare” for people to report others, and the crisis had prompted a rise in positive feelings towards local communities.

One in 20 people said in a survey of attitudes during the pandemic that they had reported others for rule breaches.

Prof Duffy said: “It’s still a minority but in terms of numbers of incidents, that’s an awful lot of reporting of your fellow citizens.”

The new rules come in amid reports that the UK’s testing systems are overwhelmed, with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressing “serious concern” over what she described as a backlog of results in the lab network.

Alice Wiseman, Gateshead’s director of public heath, said local authorities had requested a mobile testing unit on Saturday, only to see it arrive a day late with dozens of people directed elsewhere for tests.

“We’re not able to do contact tracing unless we have a positive result,” she told the BBC. “In theory, there are potentially people walking around with Covid who just don’t know.”

Doris-Ann Williams, chief executive of laboratory testing industry body the British In Vitro Diagnostic Association, said delays to testing were being caused by a lack of staff and they were “trying to desperately recruit more” to increase capacity for the winter.

Long road to normality

The new “rule of six” is a reminder coronavirus – and the restrictions placed on our lives – are far from over.

Scientists say a rise in cases is not just confined to hotspots like Bolton, but is being witnessed up and down the country.

That cannot be tackled with just “local lockdowns” hence national rules for all of us, albeit with slightly different flavours in the UK’s devolved nations.

And there may be more to come. It is anticipated coronavirus will get harder to contain through winter.

A multitude of bugs – from flu to the common cold – find it easier to spread when it is cooler and we spend more time indoors.

But coronavirus cases are increasing now, in summer – which technically ends next week.

Levels are still far lower than when they peaked in March, the virus is spreading far more slowly than pre-lockdown and the actions being taken now are aimed at preventing another lockdown.

But the road to normality remains a long one.

The “rule of six” in England – hailed as “super simple” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – replaces guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors and a previous ban on gatherings which exceeded 30 people.

Under the changes, larger gatherings are still allowed at gyms, schools, places of worship, weddings and funerals. Education and work settings are not affected.

And new details of exemptions published on Monday revealed that shooting, yachting and ultimate frisbee are among the sports that can continue in groups of more than six.

Some Tory MPs have urged No 10 to exempt young children in England and called for a debate over the rules.

England, Scotland and Wales all have new restrictions, with several key similarities and differences.

Northern Ireland announced a six person, two household limit on indoor gatherings on 24 August, a reduction on a previous restriction of 10 people from four households.

Groups larger than six can be broken up by police, with members of the group facing fines of £100 for a first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £3,200.

But it emerged that fewer than half of people fined under existing coronavirus regulations in England and Wales had paid their penalties.

A letter from the Attorney General, written on 25 August and published last week, said 46% of more than 19,000 fines issued were past the deadline for payment and could be considered for prosecution.

In other developments:

How will the new rules affect you? Do you have a question about them? If you have had a coronavirus test what was the process like? Tell us by emailing

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