(Oct. 1, 2020) Just 12 days after issuing the new “Rule of Six” restrictions, the government made an announcement on September 22, 2020, that England was at a “perilous turning point” and further measures were necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. The new requirements increase the number of places where face masks must be worn, further tighten certain exemptions to the Rule of Six, and shorten the hours that certain businesses may be open.
While not a return to the lockdown the country underwent earlier in 2020, the measures are restrictive in nature and designed to “save lives, protect the NHS, and the most vulnerable, and shelter the economy from the far sterner and more costly measures that would inevitably become necessary later,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Two newly introduced Regulations amend existing Regulations to require the more widespread use of face masks. In particular, face masks must now be worn in private hire vehicles and taxies, and in hospitality venues unless seated at a table to eat or drink. Persons providing services that require close contact between people must now wear both face coverings and visors. Public transportation workers and taxi drivers remain subject to guidance directing them to wear face coverings. Exemptions continue to exist, such as for individuals who have underlying medical conditions. Unless exempted, failing to wear a face mask in such circumstances is punishable with a fixed penalty of £200 (about US$260).
The government also stated that those who can work effectively from home should do so. Additional restrictions have been issued for businesses that sell food or drink, social clubs, casinos, amusement arcades, indoor health clubs, bowling alleys, bingo halls, fairs, and theme parks. These facilities must close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., although delivery services for food may continue during the curfew hours. In premises licensed to serve alcohol, bars must be closed and table service is required for all food and drink.
Certain businesses continue to have a mandatory duty to take the contact details of customers and patrons, and to retain this information for 21 days, to help with contact tracing. To facilitate this, businesses are required to display an NHS QR code poster that enables customers to check in digitally to facilitate the taking of their contact details. The NHS COVID App was released on September 24, 2020, and went live on September 26, 2020, providing alerts to individuals who have been in close proximity to other people who have tested positive for COVID-19. It also provides alerts to inform people about the level of risk of COVID-19 in the person’s area, or if they have visited a venue where the user may have come into contact with COVID-19.
Starting September 28, 2020, businesses and organizations have been required to adhere to rules to ensure their premises meet the “COVID-secure” requirements. Those who repeatedly breach the rules face fines of up to £10,000 (approximately US$13,000). In addition, employers must not require or encourage individuals who they know are self-isolating to go into work and, if the use of face masks is mandatory in their business, must ensure their employees comply.
Certain exemptions to the Rule of Six have also been further limited or abolished. Support groups, which were exempt to the Rule of Six, are now restricted to meetings of up to 15 people. Indoor organized sports for those over 18 years of age are no longer exempt to the Rule of Six. The number of people permitted to attend a wedding was reduced from 30 to 15, although funerals will continue to be limited to 30 people, as per the initial exemption.
The government had hoped to open business conferences and exhibition halls, and hold large sporting events again, starting October 1, 2020, but has now cancelled these plans. Due to concerns over the potential length of the second wave, the government has stated that it expects these measures to remain in place through March 2021.
To help ensure the new Regulations are enforced, the government has allocated £60 million (approximately US$77 million) in funding designed “to support additional enforcement activity by local authorities and the police, [which is] in addition to funding that has already been awarded,” the government’s September 22 announcement said.