Britons who bump into their friends in the street and stop to have a chat could be fined for ‘mingling’ if there are more than six people present, the home secretary has claimed.
As of yesterday, groups of more than six are banned from meeting indoors or outdoors, including in pubs, restaurants, private homes and parks.
Anyone who flouts the rules could be dispersed by police or handed fines of between £100 and £3,200. But according to Priti Patel, even those who spot their friends by chance and stop to mingle could also face punishment.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Patel said: ‘Mingling is people coming together. That is my definition of mingling.’
Asked if two families of four stopping to talk in a park would be banned, Patel responded: ‘I think it is absolutely mingling.’
The home secretary suggested even a socially distanced chat would be breaking the rules, adding: ‘The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other peoples’ health at risk and people can undertake their own judgement, exercise their judgement – wearing masks, social distancing etc etc.
‘And people have been doing that anyway. People have been incredible I think.’
However, the government regulation regarding the ban on ‘mingling’ only applies to events organised by charities, businesses and public bodies.
Regulation 5 of the Health Protection Regulations states that ‘qualifying groups’ permitted to attend the event must not ‘mingle with any person’ who is ‘not a member of the same qualifying group as them’.
It does not mention that ‘mingling’ would constitute as two groups who bump into one another in the street or in a park.
Patel’s comments were met with criticism and former Tory minister Anna Soubry said it was ‘complete nonsense.’
She wrote on Twitter: ‘Priti Patel tells #Today if a family of 4 comes across another family of 4 in the street who they know & they stop for a chat they are “mingling” & have committed a criminal offence.
‘This is complete nonsense & we risk a total breakdown on #COVID19 rule compliance.’
Policing minister Kit Malthouse yesterday encouraged Britons to call the police on their neighbours if they spot them meeting in a group of more than six people.
However, the policing minister said first-time offenders found to have flouted the rule should not be fined.
Patel admitted that she would ‘clearly’ be willing to snitch on her own neighbours if she saw them breaching the rules.
‘If I saw something that I thought was inappropriate, then quite frankly I would effectively call the police,’ she told Sky News.
‘It’s not about dobbing in neighbours, I think it’s all about us taking personal responsibility. If there was a big party taking place, it would be right to call the police.’
The social clampdown comes amid concern that people are struggling to get coronavirus tests, especially in areas where the infection rates are highest.
Patel insisted that tests were available for people in their local areas, and that Public Health England was adding capacity and ensuring more testing was available on a daily basis.
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