LONDON, (The Southern African Times) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced a tightening of social distancing rules by banning social gatherings of more than six people in England in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country.
The new rules will be implemented in England from Monday as the legal limit on social meet-ups is cut back down from 30 to single digits in response to a recent spike in COVID-19 infections across the country.
The new measures, revealed after the number of daily cases in Britain rose to almost 3,000 on Wednesday, will apply to gatherings indoors and outdoors, including private homes, as well as parks, pubs and restaurants.
Exemptions will apply for schools, weddings, funerals and organized team sports in a COVID-secure way, according to Johnson.
The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference that the virus has “evolved over many months”, but it “still remains true we want people to be able and confident to go back to work in a COVID-secure way and pupils back in school is a priority”.
The “whole objective is to allow that to continue” and today’s restrictions “clarify, simplify and intensify the message so everyone understands the rule of six… preventing another wholesale lockdown,” he said.
Johnson announced the new restrictions at a time when countries, such as Britain, China, Russia and the United States, are engaged in a race against time to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
“It is important to take tough measures now,” the prime minister said, adding that he believes Britain will “continue to drive this virus down and beat this virus before too long.”
“We need to act now to stop the virus spreading,” he said. “So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact — making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce.”
People gathering in groups of more than six from Monday in homes, other indoor venues and outdoors will risk a 100-pound (about 130-U.S. dollar) fine, with Johnson warning that rule breakers could face arrest.
“It is absolutely critical that people now abide by these rules and remember the basics — washing your hands, covering your face, keeping space from others, and getting a test if you have symptoms,” he said.
Johnson said he was “still hopeful” that the restrictions would be relaxed by Christmas.
But he suggested that this requires the “moonshot” of mass-testing, adding: “We are aiming for that. We are driving for that. As I have said…We cannot be 100 percent sure that we can deliver that in its entirety.”
Also speaking at the press conference, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be “difficult” between now and the spring.
“People should not see this as a short-term thing,” Whitty said.