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England: New “Rule of Six” Introduced to Slow Spread of COVID-19

(Sept. 23, 2020) The United Kingdom (U.K.) has recently seen a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country, with an R number as of September 18, 2020, between 1.1 and 1.4, meaning every 10 people infected will infect 11 to 14 additional people. This growth led to the government announcing on September 9, 2020, amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020. One amendment entered into force on September 14, 2020, and prohibits people who do not live together in the same household, or who are not in a support bubble, from gathering in groups of more than six people. The government has advised that, during such gatherings, individuals not in the same household should continue to maintain social distancing of at least 2 meters (6 feet). Another amendment requires that, from September 18, 2020, certain businesses have a mandatory duty to collect NHS Test and Trace data and retain it for 21 days.

The new rule regarding gatherings, referred to as “the rule of six,” applies to both indoor and outdoor locations as well as within people’s private homes. The government’s aim in amending the regulation is to “simplify and clarify the rules on social gatherings, so they are easier to understand and easier for the police to enforce.” The rules have, however, received criticism for causing confusion due to the number of exemptions.

The exemptions permit gatherings of more than six people for the following purposes:

  • work
  • volunteer and charitable services
  • childcare
  • education or training
  • supervised activities for children
  • the provision of support to vulnerable people or emergency assistance
  • attendance in court or jury duty to fulfil a legal obligation
  • support groups
  • religious services in places of worship
  • protests organized to ensure compliance with COVID-19 Secure Guidelines
  • arrangements for child custody access in two households

Pubs, shops, restaurants, and leisure venues will be able to remain open provided they follow the COVID-19 Guidelines.

Any person under one of these exemptions who is present in a group does not count toward the “rule of six.” To clarify this point, the government has given the example that a tradesperson who visits a home and thereby causes the total number of people there to be seven would not be in breach of the rules because the tradesperson would be in the home under one of the exemptions.

Organized sports occurring either indoors or outdoors, including exercise classes, are permitted to continue provided safety guidance has been published by the sport’s governing bodies. What this effectively means is that informal pickup games of more than six people from different households are prohibited, but organized games for sports that have a league and have published such guidance are permitted. Elite sports and training are also exempt from the rule of six.

Additional exemptions exist for funerals, religious ceremonies, and weddings, which may host groups of up to 30 people, provided these individuals do not gather in groups of more than six and these groups of six do not mingle with other groups of up to six people. Weddings may be held only at venues that have undergone a risk assessment for COVID-19 and are a “COVID-19 secure environment/venue.” Such venues should attempt to meet social distancing requirements for their guests. While weddings may have celebrations after the ceremony for up to 30 people, this exemption does not apply to receptions held after funerals and other religious ceremonies. Venues that fail to complete a risk assessment, or fail to put in place measures to manage the risk of COVID-19 could violate health and safety legislation and, if such violations are continuous, the persons responsible could face fines and imprisonment for up to two years.

The rule of six does not apply to areas that are hotspots and have additional regulations in place with more stringent requirements that prohibit people from socializing with others whom they do not live with.

The government is encouraging people to report those violating the rule of six to police on the nonemergency police number. The police can issue fixed penalty notices of 100 pounds (£) (approximately US$130) to anyone who violates the rule, which can be doubled for anyone who continually breaches it, with a maximum fine of £3,200 (approximately US$4,100) possible. Moreover, any person who organizes a gathering of more than 30 people can face a fine of up to £10,000 (approximately US$13,000).