The detailed fine print of the government’s new coronavirus legislation was published just 30 minutes before it came into force on Monday.
Such was the rush, that one human rights barrister suggested in a tweet that they were “so embarrassed” that the time of publication was omitted entirely from the final document.
Despite being announced and broadly outlined last Wednesday, the so-called “rule of six” guidance does contain new details of what the public needs to do in order to ensure they are not acting illegally – including, an apparent ban on... mingling.
One new phrase is “linked households”, which describes how two households can hang out without being raided by police.
It reads *deep breath*:
5ZA.—(1) Where a household comprises one adult, or one adult and one or more persons who were under the age of 18 on 12th June 2020 (“the first household”), the adult may choose to be linked with one other household (“the second household”), provided that— (a) neither the first household nor the second household are linked with any other household for the purposes of these Regulations or any of the Regulations mentioned in regulation 1(4), and (b) all the adult members of the second household agree.
(2) There is no limit on the number of adults or children which may be in the second household.
(3) The first and second households are “linked households” in relation to each other.
(4) The first and second households cease to be linked households if neither household satisfies the condition in the opening words of paragraph (1).
(5) Once the first and second households have ceased being linked households, neither the first household nor the second household may be linked with any other household.”.
In short this means that an adult living on their own or with no other adults but any number of children under 18, can hang out with any other household regardless of how many people live there.
Which would appear to go against the spirit of the “rule of six” but oh well.
People face fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the new measure, which applies to both indoor and outdoor settings and follows a rapid increase in the number of daily positive cases.
The new law comes amid concerns about an increase in cases in care homes and growing criticism of the NHS Test and Trace system.
Aside from limited exemptions including work and education, police will be able to disperse gatherings of more than six people and issue fines ranging from £100 to £3,200.
Deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolitan Police’s response to coronavirus, said officers will be deployed in every borough to patrol public spaces and respond swiftly to incidents where groups gather in large numbers.
“Where people just won’t listen, and are putting everyone at risk, we absolutely will take enforcement action,” he said.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the recent rise in cases “makes it clear that more needs to be done to stop the spread of this disease”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Throughout the coronavirus pandemic public services have had to act at great speed to take the appropriate action to keep the virus under control and the public safe.
″These new regulations are vitally important and the Government must get them right to ensure that the law is clear and effective.
“The police are working hard and at pace to develop guidance for officers and we thank them for their continued work during these unprecedented times.”