Britons have been warned against having a “party weekend” as a former chief scientific adviser said the UK is “on the edge of losing control” of coronavirus.
The public has been urged to act “in tune” with Covid-19 guidelines before the “rule of six” restrictions come into force in England, Wales and Scotland from Monday with some exceptions.
On Saturday, police in Greater Manchester were dispersing gatherings and issuing fixed penalty notices.
They attended a gathering at an address in Stockport which had 45 people in attendance, and another address in north Manchester which they had been called to on two previous occasions.
Photos showed drinkers flocking to bars and pubs across Britain on Friday night, just over 48 hours before the new rules, which will limit gatherings to six people both indoors and outdoors in England.
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Confirmed cases have been soaring across the UK, with Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull the latest to have tough local lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the virus’ spread.
Former chief scientific adviser and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) Sir Mark Walport said the only way to stop the virus spreading is to reduce the number of people we all come into contact with, adding that there is an “extremely strong argument” that home working should continue.
Tough new Covid-19 lockdown measures were announced for parts of the UK on Friday as cases continued to rise and as the R number – the reproduction number of coronavirus transmission – climbed above one.
There has been a steep rise in cases among young people in England, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has recently urged them to stick to the rules.
New measures banning people from mixing in homes and gardens will be imposed on Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell from Tuesday in response to a rocketing infection rate in the area.
Ahead of the “rule of six” coming into play, the chairman of the body representing rank and file police officers raised concerns about behaviour over the weekend.
John Apter, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “There is a real risk some members of the public will take advantage of the current situation and treat this weekend as a party weekend ahead of the tighter restrictions being introduced on Monday.”
Police in Manchester – where a local lockdown has been in force since July 30 – said they broke up a house party of 30 people in the early hours of Saturday.
When asked whether the UK was still in control of the spread of the virus, Sir Mark Walport said: “I think one would have to say that we’re on the edge of losing control.”
He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You’ve only got to look across the Channel to see what’s happening in France, what’s happening in Spain.
“The French on Thursday had 9,800 new infections and one can see their hospital admissions and indeed their intensive care admissions are going up.”
He added: “The short answer is the only way to stop the spread of this infection is to reduce the number of people we all come into contact with, that lowers the risk.
“It’s a very very fine balancing act, it’s very important to get youngsters back to school, people to university, but it means we’re going to have to hold back our contacts in other areas.”
The professor said he was “definitely” still working from home, and told the programme: “Where people can work from home there’s an extremely strong argument that they should do so.”
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove urged people to act “in tune with” the rules this weekend, telling BBC Breakfast: “If people do behave in a way that is not really in line or in tune with the guidelines that have been put out, then they are putting other people at risk.
“The reason why the country’s police chiefs have said that they hope people behave with appropriate restraint this weekend is we do not want to see a further acceleration of the spread of the virus.”
He denied that the Government was losing control of Covid-19, saying: “No. I don’t accept that.”
He also said the Government is not considering backing down over the “rule of six”, despite calls from Tory MPs to exempt children from the new restrictions, adding that the measure is necessary to “keep the reinfection rate down” so “we can protect our grandparents”.
“And then we can ensure in due course that these restrictions can be relaxed and my hope like so many is that we can have a proper Christmas,” he added.
Mr Gove said Sir Mark’s warning is a “warning to us all”, telling the Today Programme: “I think Sir Mark’s words – he’s a very distinguished scientist – is a warning to us all.
“There’s a range of scientific opinion but one thing on which practically every scientist is agreed is that we have seen an uptick in infection and therefore it is appropriate we take public health measures.”
In England, those who flout the new rules can be fined £100 for a first offence, doubling on each further offence up to £3,200.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is considering plans to fine people who breach self-isolation rules.
And asked whether the Government should consider a carrot and stick approach with better financial support for those self-isolating as well as fines for breaches, Mr Gove told the Today programme: “I think it is a very fair point.”
In Birmingham, Dr Justin Varney, the city’s director of public health, said the rise in infections there was linked mostly to gatherings in private homes at the end of August and over the bank holiday weekend.
An increase in testing resulted in more confirmed cases, he added.
Licensed premises, like pubs and bars, and restaurants flouting contact tracing rules and social distancing are also believed to be part of the problem behind rising rates.
Elsewhere, Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared in a video on TikTok which was posted on the TikTok-uk account.
In the video, he says that “no matter what your age it’s incredibly important that you follow the rules” to keep the virus under control.
Coronavirus cases in the UK have risen to the highest level since mid-May, with a total of 3,539 new cases recorded on Friday.
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It is the highest daily figure since May 17, and Public Health England’s medical director Professor Yvonne Doyle warned it is a reminder of the “ongoing risk as the virus spreads throughout the UK”.
The figure rose sharply from 2,919 the previous day and most cases are people who have been tested in the community.
Data released by the Government Office for Science and Sage showed the estimate for the R value across the UK is between 1.0 and 1.2.
According to Government advisers, the last time R was above one was in early March.
What are the new rules?
The new rules are being applied slightly differently in each devolved administration.
From Monday, gatherings of more than six people will be illegal.
The rules will apply across England to all ages and in any setting either indoors and outdoors, at home or a pub.
A single household or support bubble that is larger than six will still be able to gather.
Covid-secure venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality settings can still hold more than six in total.
Education and work settings are not affected by the new rules.
Weddings and funerals can still go ahead with a limit of 30 people if conducted in a Covid-secure way.
People in Wales will only be able to meet in groups of six or under indoors and must all belong to the same extended household group.
Up to four households are able to join together to form an extended household.
But, unlike in England, children under 12 will be exempt and will not count towards that total.
Also unlike in England, people will also still be able to meet up in groups of up to 30 outdoors, as long as social distancing is maintained.
The changes will not apply in Caerphilly county borough due to its rise in Covid-19 cases.
People across Wales must wear face masks in shops and other indoor public spaces from Monday.
A maximum of six people from two households will be allowed to meet together in Scotland.
Just like in England, the new limit applies when people meet in restaurants, pubs and beer gardens, as well as in homes.
However, children under the age of 12, who are part of the two households meeting will not count towards the limit of six people, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.
There will be “some limited exceptions”, covering organised sports and places of worship.
Up to 20 people will be able to attend weddings, civil partnerships and funerals, as well as receptions and wakes, which is more stringent than both England and Wales.
Northern Ireland has not announced any changes to how many people can gather.
However, localised coronavirus restrictions are to be introduced in Belfast and Ballymena.
People from two or more households in these areas will not be able to meet in private settings.
There are a number of limited exceptions, including childcare provision and households that have formed a social bubble with another.
No more than six people, from no more than two households, will be allowed to meet in private gardens.
In Northern Ireland, the number of people who can gather indoors in a private home was already reduced from 10 people from four households to six people from two households last month due to a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Up to 15 people can meet outdoors.
-- to www.mirror.co.uk