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Rule of six: Social distancing rules, support bubbles and exemptions explained

The Rule of Six will return on Mar 29 as part of the Government’s plan to reopen society after a third national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Boris Johnson announced his roadmap on Feb 22, setting out how restrictions will be eased in England from Mar 8. 

The plan is divided into four steps. And each step is five weeks apart so that the impact of each measure being removed can be analysed. 

The next stage of the plan will then be given the go-ahead providing four tests are met – the vaccine rollout going as planned, vaccines continuing to bring down deaths and hospital admissions, cases not so high they will overwhelm NHS and new variants not creating big new risk.

The Rule of Six is the second part of the first step of the plan, which will come into force on Mar 29. 

It will mean that family and friends can reunite in groups of no more than six outdoors, paving the way for picnics and barbecues. 

Key Dates

  1. Step 1: – Mar 8 part 1, Mar 29 part 2
  2. Step 2 – Apr 12
  3. Step 3 – May 17
  4. Step 4 – Jun 21

What is happening on Mar 29?

Mar 29 is the date that the Rule of Six will return to England. 

From Mar 8, all schools will reopen and schools sports will be allowed to continue. Care home residents will be allowed one visitor at a time and they will be able to hold hands. 

And as part of the very first easing of lockdown, people will be able to meet one other person outside to socialise. 

Then, on Mar 29, six people or two different households can meet outside, meaning the return of the Rule of Six. 

Organised sport will be allowed to restart again for adults and children, meaning a return of golf, tennis, club cricket, amateur rugby and grassroots football. 

The current advice of staying in the local area to exercise will be abandoned, and instead people will be urged to minimise their travel, although no distance limits will apply. 

The blanket “stay at home” message will then be scrapped for the first time in almost two months, meaning people can leave their homes to socialise. 

What are the rules right now?

A new national lockdown came into force on Jan 5, meaning the end of the old tier system and the Rule of Six was scrapped England.

Everyone has been told to stay at home, and only to go out for one of five reasons: to work if it is “impossible” to work from home; to shop for essentials; to exercise; to provide care, and for medical appointments.

However, exercising with one other person outdoors is allowed, and childcare and support bubbles can continue.

These rules remain in force until Mar 8, when people will be allowed to meet one-on-one to socialise outdoors and do not have to be exercising. 

Why was the rule of six introduced? 

The change to the law first came in the autumn of last year after Boris Johnson told his Cabinet that ministers must ensure there was “no complacency” among the public, and particularly young people, following the rise in coronavirus infections, as the latest chart below shows.

The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, agreed that the action was needed urgently after the number of positive cases rose steeply.

Where do these rules apply?

The lockdown restrictions mean people will not be allowed to gather or mix with different households in any public place, indoors or outdoors.

This includes private homes, parks, pubs, restaurants and sporting events.

If exercising with one other person, this should be done in a public outdoor place such as a park or beach.

What are the exemptions to the Rule of Six?

Support bubbles

Households or support bubbles of more than six people are exempt from the new rules. Support bubbles allow adults who live by themselves and single parents with children under 18 to join up with one other household.

Under new rules, parents with babies under the age of one can also form a “support bubble” with another household.

This means they can do things such as visit their house, stay the night and travel together in vehicles.

Weddings

Weddings will not be allowed to go ahead under the current restrictions, meaning many couples will have to reschedule once again.

A wedding could be permitted if there is an “exceptional circumstance”, but guests will be capped at six.

Funerals

Funerals can continue, with 30 people allowed to pay their respects. But only six people will be allowed to attend the wake.

Schools and offices

All primary and secondary schools will reopen on Mar 8, although GCSE and A-level exams face cancellation for a second year.

Only vulnerable children and the children of key workers have been allowed to attend schools for face-to-face learning, and early years settings such as nurseries remained accessible.

In terms of work, the Prime Minister has said everyone should work at home unless it is “impossible” to do so.

Read more: Will schools close again?

Pubs and restaurants

From Wednesday January 6, all pubs and restaurants in England must close and can only offer food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect and drive-through.

All food and drink (including alcohol) can continue to be provided by delivery.

Places of worship

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples remain open, although congregations are required to stay at least one metre apart and attendance will be capped. Under the existing guidance, services are expected to conclude as quickly as possible, with worshippers encouraged to leave “promptly” afterwards. 

Sporting events

Amateur adult team sport events such as 5-a-side will not be allowed to go ahead until Mar 29, but elite sport will be allowed to continue.

Spectators will be banned from attending sporting events, similar to the March lockdown last year.

Outdoor sports venues such as golf courses, tennis courts and outside gyms must also close.

Will I be punished for breaking the rules?

The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

What are the rules in other parts of the UK?

Different rules apply to social gatherings elsewhere in the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the “Stay At Home” message will be enforceable by law on the Scottish mainland from midnight on January 5, which is similar to the lockdown put in place in March last year. 

In an address to the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish First Minister has stated that new restrictions are being put in place in reaction to the spread of the new variant, which accounts for almost half of all cases in Scotland. The restrictions will remain in place until the end of January, although Ms Sturgeon has not ruled out extending this lockdown if necessary. 

Northern Ireland Stormont ministers agreed to impose another lockdown on Boxing Day, which included closing non-essential shops, close-contact services and hospitality venues without takeaways. This comes as cases continue to rise in the country.

In Wales, the Welsh government announced detail of a four-tier traffic light system on December 11, stating that the country will enter Level 4 from December 20, although household mixing of Christmas bubbles was permitted on Christmas Day. The rules are similar to Tier 4 in England, where people must stay at home, apart from in exceptional circumstances. A review of the levels will take place every 3 weeks.  

How can we socialise safely?

A campaign was launched to encourage people to help stop the spread of coronavirus because people are more likely to socialise indoors during autumn and the winter.

The Hands Face Space campaign urges people to ensure they wash their hands, use a mask where appropriate and stay at least two metres apart – or one metre with a face covering or other precautions.

The campaign states that these are the three most effective ways the public can contain the spread of the virus.

hands face space

When might we see the end of the Rule of Six? 

By June 21, it is expected we will broadly be back to normal. 

Although social distancing may apply until everybody in the country has been offered a vaccine. 

This is likely to be the beginning of August.

Read More: What exactly is the Pfizer vaccine, who will get it, and is it safe?

Original Source

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