London, Sep 12 (PTI) Police forces across the UK on Saturday urged the public to exercise restraint and stay away from large gatherings ahead of the new “rule of six” lockdown rules that will officially come into force from Monday, amid a spike in coronavirus infections across the country.
The chairman of the organisation representing police officers across England and Wales asked people to resist any temptation for a weekend of gatherings ahead of the stricter rules restricting indoor and outdoor gatherings to just six at a time, the breach of which comes with a GBP 100 fine.
'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,' said John Apter, of the Police Federation of England and Wales.
In a series of tougher localised lockdowns, new measures banning people from mixing in homes and gardens will be imposed on Birmingham, Solihull and Sandwell from Tuesday as the R number – or the rate of infection – crossed the crucial mark of one for the first time since the lockdown was gradually eased from June.
“The reinforcement of the nationwide rule of six for social gatherings sends a clear signal to us all – the whole country must continue to stay vigilant and practise social distancing to beat this virus,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“After seeing cases in the West Midlands continue to rise, the decision has been taken in collaboration with local leaders to ban households mixing in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull.
'We never take these decisions lightly but social gatherings can spread the virus quickly, and we need residents to abide by the new rules to break the chains of transmission,” he said.
In his direct appeal, the minister called on people to get a swab test if symptomatic and stay at home if required to self-isolate.
According to some reports, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet have discussed further measures to ensure people do not breach quarantine rules.
The Cabinet is believed to be drawing up plans for a law to fine people who breach self-isolation rules. The police can issue fines of up to 1,000 pounds for breaching quarantine, although the powers have not been widely used with just 34 people fined since the measures were introduced.
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.
'The occupant claimed he wasn't aware there were any Covid restrictions in place and couldn't see what the problem was. People dispersed and fixed penalty notice issued,' Greater Manchester Police said.
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.
Data released by the government's Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed the estimate for the R value, the reproduction number of coronavirus transmission, across the UK is between 1.0 and 1.2.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care said it is ready to roll out a smartphone app as the next step in tracking and tracing the pandemic.
Businesses across England and Wales like pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas have been asked to ensure they have the National Health Service (NHS) Quick Response (QR) code posters visible on entry so customers who have downloaded the new NHS Covid-19 App can use their smartphones to easily check-in.
A country-wide launch of the app is scheduled from September 24, with pilots currently taking place in different regions.
The government says with the app, people will be able to check-in on entry at public venues with their phone instead of filling out a check-in book or tool specific to a business. This will allow NHS Test and Trace to contact customers with public health advice should there be a COVID-19 outbreak.
“This function will make it simple and easy so we can keep this virus under control,” said Hancock.
The government is battling to control the latest spike in infections, with the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates suggesting there has been a 60 per cent rise in daily infections in England. Separately, new data from an Imperial College London study suggested coronavirus cases in England were doubling every seven to eight days at the beginning of September.
A further six people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday, bringing the UK’s death toll from the deadly virus to 41,614. PTI AK NSA