The British government is banning gatherings of more than six people in England, as officials try to keep a lid on daily new COVID-19 infections after a sharp spike across the UK that has been largely blamed on party-going young adults disregarding social distancing regulations.
Downing Street said that urgent action was needed after the number of daily laboratory-confirmed positive cases hit nearly 3,000 on Sunday. The figure dipped to 2,460 on Tuesday.
Officials said that starting on Monday next week, the legal limit on all social gatherings in England would be reduced from 30 people to six.
The new law would apply both indoors and outdoors, including private homes, restaurants and parks. Failure to comply could result in a ￡100 (US$130) fine.
Weddings, school, funerals and organized team sports would be exempt, while larger gatherings would also be allowed if the household or “support bubble” is larger than six.
British ministers and scientists urged Britons not to let down their guard.
“We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer ... but these latest figures really show us that much as people might like to say: ‘Oh well, it’s gone away,’ this hasn’t gone away,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam said.
He said that while the rise in infections is “much more marked” among people between 17 and 21, he was concerned about a “more general and creeping geographic trend” across the UK.
“People have relaxed too much,” he said. “Now is the time for us to re-engage and realize that this is a continuing threat.”
The UK has Europe’s worst death toll from COVID-19, with 41,675 deaths within 28 days of testing positive. The actual toll is believed to be far higher as the tally does not include those who died without having been tested.
The spike in UK cases followed big case increases in Spain and France, both of whom have experienced rising numbers of COVID-19 patients being hospitalized.
The worry is that the UK would also start seeing increases in COVID-19 patients being hospitalized and dying.
“While young people are less likely to die from this disease, be in no doubt that they are still at risk,” British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock told lawmakers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has faced strong criticism for its mixed messages since it started easing its lockdown in late spring. It spent much of the summer encouraging people to eat out to help the hard-pressed hospitality sector and is now urging workers to return to their offices to help hard-hit businesses in city centers.
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine epidemiologist John Edmunds said that cases are rising, though “not spectacularly,” but he is worried about what would happen following the reopening of schools and universities.
“There are big movements afoot in the country and these will inevitably accelerate transmission,” Edmunds told Sky News. “I’m not sure we have to go back to work when we can work from home.”
Meanwhile, a local lockdown went into effect on Tuesday in Caerphilly, Wales.
Under the new restrictions, people there are not allowed to enter or leave the area without a reasonable excuse, everyone aged over 11 must wear a mask in shops and indoor meetings between different households are banned.
Hancock also announced new lockdown restrictions for Bolton, northwest England, which has the highest number of per capita COVID-19 cases in the UK. Most new cases involve people between 18 and 49.
Among the restrictions, Hancock said restaurants, cafes and pubs in Bolton would only be able to offer takeaway services.
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