Legal limit on indoor gatherings ‘could be SLASHED from 30’


Boris Johnson gathered his Cabinet today amid signs the legal limit on gatherings could be slashed from 30 to stem a spike in coronavirus cases.

The PM and his senior ministers are holding a socially-distanced meeting with concerns rising about infections – which have neared 3,000 for two days running.

There are reports that the number of people legally allowed to meet up in private homes could be reduced in England from the current maximum of 30, to counter fears that young people partying could be driving the increase.

The numbers could even be brought into line with the government’s guidance, which is for a ceiling of six people. Any private gathering with more participants would then face fines, unless there were only two households involved.

It is not expected the change would cover venues such as pubs, which have ‘Covid Secure’ measures in place.  

The move is being considered as experts warn that Mr Johnson’s ambition to return the country to some sort of normality by Christmas is at risk.

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street today) and his senior ministers are holding a socially-distanced meeting with concerns rising about infections – which have neared 3,000 for two days running

The infection rates for young people have been rising recently, but so far they have been relatively flat for older people

The infection rates for young people have been rising recently, but so far they have been relatively flat for older people

Michael Gove walked through Downing Street to get to the Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office - which has more space for social distancing

Michael Gove walked through Downing Street to get to the Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office – which has more space for social distancing

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had 'relaxed too much' over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of 'great concern'

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had ‘relaxed too much’ over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of ‘great concern’

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity

What are the current rules on gatherings? 

The government’s guidance is that gatherings indoors should involve either a maximum of two households, or up to six people from more households.

However, the legal limit is currently 30.

Above that gatherings can be subject to police enforcement, with fines of up to £10,000 for those who organise events.

Reducing the ceiling would potentially enable the government to crack down on house parties, particularly with students preparing to start or return to university.

The change would not be expected to apply to pubs and other venues, which have ‘Covid Secure’ measures in place. 

The government’s guidance is that gatherings indoors should involve either a maximum of two households, or up to six people from more households.

However, the legal limit is currently 30.

Above that gatherings can be subject to police enforcement, with fines of £100 for attending and up to £10,000 for those who organise events.

Reducing the ceiling would potentially enable the government to crack down on house parties, particularly with students preparing to start or return to university. 

The challenge facing the government was underlined today with the director of the test and trace programme admitting that accessing screening was being hampered by problems with lab capacity.

Sarah-Jane Marsh tweeted: ‘Can I please offer my heartfelt apologies to anyone who cannot get a COVID test at present. 

‘All of our testing sites have capacity, which is why they don’t look overcrowded, its our laboratory processing that is the critical pinch-point. 

‘We are doing all we can to expand quickly.’ 

The government’s deputy chief medical officer said last night that coronavirus must be taken very seriously again or the UK will face ‘a bumpy ride over the next few months’.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the public had ‘relaxed too much’ over the summer and described the rising number of cases as of ‘great concern’, despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying the situation was not ‘out of control’.

Professor Van-Tam issued the warning as Caerphilly in south Wales prepared to be placed under local lockdown and stricter measures were extended in Scotland.

There were a further 2,948 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am yesterday, following the 2,988 reported on Sunday, which was the largest daily figure since May.

In an interview with journalists, Prof Van-Tam said: ‘This is a big change. It’s now consistent over two days and it’s of great concern at this point. 

‘We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer, the disease levels have been really quite low in the UK through 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.

‘And if we’re not careful, if we don’t take this incredibly seriously from this point in we’re going to have a bumpy ride over the next few months.’

He said that the rise is ‘much more marked’ in the 17-21 age group, but noted there is a ‘more general and creeping geographic trend’ across the UK.

‘People have relaxed too much,’ Prof Van-Tam said. ‘Now is the time for us to re-engage and realise that this is a continuing threat to us.’

The latest surge in infection figures means the UK is above its own threshold for imposing quarantine on other countries

The latest surge in infection figures means the UK is above its own threshold for imposing quarantine on other countries

It is the last Cabinet meeting with Sir Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary, with Simon Case (pictured) due to take over from tomorrow

It is the last Cabinet meeting with Sir Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary, with Simon Case (pictured) due to take over from tomorrow

Mr Johnson said in July that he was hoping for a ‘significant return to normality’ by Christmas.

‘It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest – possibly in time for Christmas,’ he told a Downing Street press conference. 

But John Edmunds, a member of the government’s SAGE scientific group, told ITV’s Robert Peston last night: ‘The epidemic continues to increase and then we have Christmas. 

‘And that is very difficult. What is Christmas? Well it’s meeting with your family very close. Restaurants and pubs and stuff like that. It’s all high risk. And it’s all indoors.’ 

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