The coronavirus Rule of Six descended into farce today as people ignored the new restrictions – after Downing Street said police would not fine lawbreakers.
As infections of the deadly bug kept rising, No 10 appeared to foil its own efforts to curb the problem by admitting no punishments would be handed out by officers in the coming days.
It was despite the Prime Minister announcing the regulations would come in days ago, giving the public ample time to get used to the idea.
Cases of coronavirus have been increasing by at least 3,000 every 24 hours and some experts have warned drastic action needed to be taken.
But after a day of ministers playing down any enforcement, followed by a Downing Street comment confirming the soft touch, some people decided to make their own decisions.
In Bath in Somerset pictures showed 14 massed in a river seemingly unaware they were hardly social distancing.
The story was the same at Pontefract racecourse where a group of ten massed to enjoy the hot weather.
And an anti-mask protest in Nottingham unsurprisingly saw a number of people ignore the new safety rules.
Samantha Jones, 42, from Grimsby, who lost her job as a shop worker because of the Covid lockdown earlier this year, was today mixing with more than six people.
She fumed: ‘If the government think I’m going to obey the Rule of Six then they can think again.
People enjoy the water at Warleigh Weir on the river Avon near Bath in Somerset as the Rule of Six restrictions become law
Primrose Hill in north London saw groups over over six join together for a day out in the sunshine on the Rule’s first test
A group of 12 in Scotland looked like they were trying to social distance in parts, but still fell foul of the new regulations
No safe six: a group of seven people watch a friend play football in the Autumn sunshine on Bournemouth beach in Dorset
Pontefract race course saw ten youths mass on the grass on the first day of being told to keep to groups of just six
‘I’m standing here with four adults and three children and the restrictions come into force today so technically I guess I’m breaking the rules.
‘But I’ve got five children, three of who live with me, and I’ve got two grandkids. There is no way that I’m going to stop my kids seeing their grandparents or stop my elder daughter from bringing my grandchildren round. It’s complete nonsense.
‘My sister has eight children and because in England – unlike Wales or Scotland – children count as part of your bubble of six people, she won’t be able to have anyone round. That doesn’t seem fair at all.
‘So If people can still mix in pubs, restaurants and at work and school then I’m going to carry on seeing members of my family even if it means breaking this Rule of Six. Realistically the police aren’t going to stop everyone are they?
‘And there is absolutely no way that I’m going to snoop on anyone doing the same!’
A group larger than six sit together on Portobello beach after the Scottish Government implicate the Rule of Six
Brighton beach looked very busy with groups larger than six seen sitting near the seashore on the sunny day
Leeds saw groups of larger than six also meet up despite the strict regulations being put into place today
In Nottingham anti-maskers failed to follow the Rule of Six in an admittedly unsurprising first day flouting of the regulations
Police attempted to remonstrate with the protesters but their advice and warnings appeared to fall on deaf ears
How to practice safe six
FAMILY AND HOUSEHOLDS
OFF: All gatherings of more than six people will be illegal, putting the traditional family Christmas at risk.
A family of five will be allowed to meet only one grandparent at a time, while families of six or more will be banned from meeting anyone.
ON: The only exemption is if a household or a support bubble is made up of more than six people.
Support bubbles allow adults who live by themselves – as well as single parents – to join up with one other household.
OFF: All social gatherings of more than six – whether a book club, dinner party or picnic – are banned.
Police will have the power to break up bigger groups in parks, pubs and private homes.
An army of ‘Covid marshals’ will be recruited by councils to step up enforcement, patrolling town centres, parks, shopping centres and train stations and encouraging large groups to break up.
People in groups of seven or more face spot fines of £100, doubling with each repeat offence to a maximum of £3,200.
OFF: Pubs or restaurants cannot seat more than six people at one table. Hospitality venues can still accept more than six people in total, but each group must be separate and kept a safe distance apart.
You cannot go to a pub in one group, then join another group. Venues face fines of £1,000 if they do not comply with the rules.
ON: Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples will remain open, although congregations will be required to stay at least a metre apart.
ON: Wedding ceremonies and receptions are exempt from the new rules, and up to 30 guests are allowed but they have to sit or stand a metre apart.
ON: Funerals are also exempt, with 30 people allowed.
ON: Gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools will remain open, as long as they are ‘Covid secure’ and enforce social distancing rules. Yoga or exercise classes with more than six people are allowed.
ON: Grassroots sport is largely unaffected. Recreational sports, including five-a-side football, cricket, rugby and parkruns, can go ahead as long as they follow protocols. But teams of more than six can’t go for a post-match pint together.
ON: Professional sports and elite training can go ahead. Pilot events for reintroducing fans to stadiums can continue, but with a limit of 1,000 spectators.
SCHOOLS, CHILDCARE AND OFFICES
ON: Schools and universities are not affected by the new rules. But they must continue to operate under existing guidelines.
ON: Youth groups, registered childcare and playgroups are exempt from the rule of six.
OFF: The rules still apply outside these settings, so a group of ten school friends cannot go from the classroom to a park, or seven colleagues cannot go from the office to the pub.
ON: Protests can go ahead in groups larger than six, as long as they are ‘Covid secure’.
Leanne Groves, 38, a mum of four from Grimsby said: ‘I can appreciate the government have brought this rule in to try and stop another spike in Coronavirus cases but it seems impractical to me.
‘My daughter has a birthday coming up and now she’s had to be told that she can’t have her friends round nor any of our family.
‘I have four young kids but they count as part of the Rule of Six so with me included my mum and grandmother can’t both come round like they usually do.
‘Yet my kids can go to school and mix with more than six people, I can go to work and be with more than six people and can even get on bus to work with more than six people. It doesn’t make sense therefore that you can’t meet up with your nearest and dearest.
‘I’m a manager at a McDonalds and when I get to work there are at least 25 members of staff present and numerous customers throughout the day.
‘I will have to stick to it, but it will be really difficult to adhere to the closer we get to Christmas especially as that’s when you want to be with your family.’
Builder Don Brett, 62, of Leytonstone, East London added: ‘I don’t understand the new six people rule. I don’t get it and I really don’t care.
‘We have been going through this pandemic thing for more than six months now. And that is what I do understand and I know that I have to look after myself.
‘I do care about others, but it is down to me to do what is sensible for me.
‘It isn’t as if I need the government to tell me once again what to do.
‘They keep changing their minds anyway. So I’ll just do what I have to do. See my family when I can and my friends and try and keep a safe distance. ‘
Downing Street suggested police would not immediately start imposing fines today on people who break the ‘rule of six’ restrictions.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman 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.’
Asked whether people should report neighbours who breach coronavirus rules, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘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.
‘What you have seen in recent weeks is some egregious flouting of the rules, such as the holding of large illegal parties, and members of the public have been contacting the police about those because they have been concerned about the risk to public health.’
The refusals came after ministers today urged people to snitch on their neighbours if they flouted the rules.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said rule-breakers should be flagged to the authorities, as the draconian measures opened up deep splits between ministers and experts.
The drastic intervention came as Home Secretary Priti Patel warned that people face criminal records as well as thousands of pounds in fines if they refuse to abide by the law.
There is a maximum fine of £3,200 facing rule-breakers who repeatedly disobey the regulations.
Gatherings of more than six people have been made illegal in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases. It has sparked fury that many larger households can no longer meet up with anyone else.
However, the rules in England are tougher than in Wales and Scotland, where under-12s are being exempted from the crackdown.