Proposals to reopen stadiums to thousands of sports fans have been slammed by furious families complaining about new coronavirus restrictions in force across England which ban relatives from meeting their loved ones.
The Government has today confirmed that up to 2,500 spectators will be allowed back into stadiums from October 1 in a bid to stop the income stream of clubs across the UK from drying up after months of grueling lockdown.
But the move threatens to undermine Boris Johnson’s new restrictions which were drawn up and imposed by officials after rising numbers of ‘cases’ caused a panic.
People have angrily complained about the apparent inconsistencies of the Government’s new Rule of Six, which outlaws social gatherings of seven or more people in England and effectively makes Christmas Dinner an arrestable offence.
The decision follows threats by Government officials to ‘consider’ imposing a 10pm curfew to prevent young people being blamed for a so-called spike in coronavirus infections from going to the pub and flouting social distancing guidelines.
It also comes as ministers are admonished by the Press for admitting that they would dob in their neighbours if they suspected they were breaking the Rule of Six as the Government presides over the transformation of Britain into a nation of narks.
On Twitter account ranted: ‘As much as I want this (access to sports stadiums) to happen, it’ll make literally zero sense when we’re banning groups of 6 and more’.
The Government has today confirmed that up to 2,500 spectators will be allowed back into stadiums from October 1 in a bid to stop the income stream of clubs from drying up
People have angrily complained about the apparent inconsistencies of the Government’s new Rule of Six, which outlaws social gatherings of seven or more people in England and effectively makes Christmas Dinner an arrestable offence
Another posted: ‘How on earth can this possibly be approved when government have made bold statements about no more than groups of 6?’
‘Whilst that is brilliant, and without wanting to get ‘political’, what the actual f…’ another wrote. ’24 hours ago we were told you can’t have more than 6 people in a group and now up to 1000 can possibly go to the football’.
One Twitter account sarcastically commented: ‘Keep people in bubbles but forget about the crowds going in and out the stadium’.
The English Football League today announced plans to continue to stage pilots with up to 1,000 fans at football matches this weekend.
In a letter to clubs this morning, the EFL’s head of policy John Nagle said: ‘We cannot guarantee at this stage that all clubs that would like to stage a pilot will be given permission to do so, as only a limited number will be approved.
‘We are still in discussions with regard to pilot matches on other dates.’
Mr Nagle apologised for the ‘late notice and short timescales’, but said ‘we are very much in the government’s hands on this one’.
But the move threatens to undermine Boris Johnson’s new restrictions which were drawn up and imposed by officials after rising numbers of ‘cases’ caused a panic
Snooker fans were also allowed back to the Crucible earlier this year as part of a trial event
An EFL spokesman said it remains ‘in discussions with the Government about the pilot programme which may include a limited number of further pilot matches during September with capacity limited to 1,000’.
‘The League is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an absolutely essential part of helping to protect club finances, which remain under extreme pressure,’ they added.
‘Therefore, the successful delivery of further pilots will be an important step towards getting larger numbers of fans into grounds safely.’
The Chairman of the National League, Brian Barwick, has written Mr Dowden today to ‘carefully consider’ how its pending decision on the return of fans to football grounds will affect its clubs, their employees, and local communities.
The National League has also asked the Government for permission to commence the new season on October 3 – which is when 24 clubs would be due to play their first League match – with social distancing measures in place.
Brian Barwick said: ‘The National League restart depends upon crowds being allowed back in stadiums as live attendance is our clubs’ largest source of income.
‘The Government urgently needs to set out a credible pathway for the safe return of supporters, and to ensure our football clubs can continue to function, and to perform their significant role in the sporting life of the country.
‘We are proud to be a national competition with strong local connections.’
Nigel Huddleston of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport wrote to fellow Conservative MP and former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch to underline the plan to continue to open sporting events for a small number of spectators from October 1.
‘I know how important this is for sports clubs for whom paying spectators are vital,’ Huddleston wrote to Crouch. ‘Subject to public health conditions, we hope to open elite sport fixtures including the National League for socially distanced spectators under covid-secure conditions from October 1.’
It comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel today warned that two families bumping into each other on the street would be breaking the Rule of Six – as she vowed to snitch on her own neighbours if they flout the new law.
She said this morning that more than half-a-dozen people stopping to chat after accidentally meeting up would constitute ‘mingling’.
Lawyers questioned whether that was the case – but No10 offered backing, saying: ‘You can expect the police to ask you to disperse.’
Defending the measures, Ms Patel also would report any behaviour she believed was ‘inappropriate’ and risked spreading the virus.
The comments came as police complained they have been left in the dark on how to enforce the restrictions, with no guidance and widespread anger among the public.
A major row was sparked as the new law came into force, banning ‘mingling’ by groups of more than six people on threat of thousands of pounds in fines.
Home Secretary Priti Patel (left) told Sky News she would report any behaviour she believed was ‘inappropriate’ and risked spreading the virus
Police observe a protest over treatment of Iranian Kurds in Newcastle city centre yesterday
In a round of interviews this morning, Ms Patel was asked if she personally would report her own neighbours.
‘I’m rarely at home but if I saw something that I thought was inappropriate then, quite frankly, I would call the police,’ she told Sky News. ‘It’s not dobbing in neighbours, it’s all about us taking personal responsibility.’
Ms Patel said it was a ‘personal choice’ on whether to report breaches, but if there was a ‘big party taking place’ it would be ‘right to call the police’.
‘Anyone that is effectively defying the rules, they will be helping to spread coronavirus,’ she said.
‘That is not a good thing and obviously we all have a role to play. We’re all taking personal responsibility, we all have to be conscientious to one another.’
Asked if two families of four stopping for a chat on the way to the park constituted ‘mingling’, Ms Patel told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It is mingling.
‘I think it is absolutely mingling. You have got to put this in the context of coronavirus and keeping distance, wearing masks.
‘The Rule of Six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people’s health at risk.’
However, MPs and police have voiced concerns about the restrictions on civil liberties, and warned that the restrictions are ‘confusing’.
John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, was asked whether ‘more guidance’ was needed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
He responded: ‘Maybe we should have ‘guidance’, because we haven’t had any yet.’
Mr Apter said he understood the Government faced a ‘very fast-moving’ and complicated situation. ‘But my colleagues who are on the front line trying to interpret this law, trying to educate and work with the public, are now being accused of asking (people) to snitch on their neighbours,’ he added.
‘We do not have loads of extra police officers. We’re already trying to manage increasing demand. We’re not going to be able to attend every call.’
Under the new regulations, ‘mingling’ in a large group has been banned, with the exception of sports and organised outdoor activities such as hunting.
A group of young people soak up the sunshine on Primrose Hill in London yesterday
New coronavirus rules banning groups larger than six came under fire as a list of exemptions was published. Pictured, a group gather in St George Park, Bristol, on Monday
The rules came in as temperatures of up to 30C swept the country, with Britons flocking in groups to beaches and parks (above, people in the river Avon near Bath in Somerset)
Larger gatherings are permitted for work, childcare or political protests. But meeting six friends for a kick about in the park, a picnic or party is illegal.
Rule breakers face fines of £100, rising to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offenders.
The rules came in yesterday as warm weather swept the country, with Britons flocking in groups to beaches and parks to enjoy temperatures of up to 30C.
But the new regulations state that people must not ‘mingle with any person who is participating in the gathering but is not a member of the same qualifying group as them’.
They add: ‘Activities where there is a significant likelihood of groups of more than six mingling… should not take place until further Covid-19 secure guidance has been developed and approved to enable the activity to happen safely.
‘This may include extended tour groups, large banquet dinners, society or club meetings, or amateur music or drama rehearsals.’
However, places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality settings can still hold more than six in total, while up to 30 can attend weddings and funerals.
The regulations were published just before midnight on Sunday, moments before they came into effect and without police having time to draft their own guidance.
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said yesterday that rule breakers should be shopped to the authorities.
Groups of up to 30 can still gather outdoors in Wales (pictured, Cardiff university students at Barry island beach on Monday) as long as they maintain social distancing
Meeting groups of friends for a picnic or party is now illegal, with rule breakers facing fines of £100. Pictured, a group gather in Hove after the new rules came into force
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are in discussions about what reporting mechanisms there might be, but there is obviously the non-emergency number that people can ring and report issues they wish to.’
When pressed on whether that would involve reporting a gathering of seven or more in a neighbour’s garden, Mr Malthouse said: ‘It is open to neighbours to do exactly that through the non-emergency number, and if they are concerned and they do see that kind of thing, then absolutely they should think about it.’
…but it’s still OK to go grouse shooting in groups of up to 30
Ministers have given the green light for grouse shooting to be included on a list of sports that are exempt from the new coronavirus restrictions.
Other physical activities that are allowed in groups of up to 30 include hunting with guns, paintball and team sports such as football, hockey and netball.
Sailing, angling and polo are also allowed.
The guidance warns the public not to gather in groups of more than six before or after the activity, and to maintain social distancing wherever possible.
The Government last night faced criticism from opponents of hunting, but was praised by those who had warned that a ban would impact the rural economy.
Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said well-organised shooting and hunting meets posed ‘no serious risk’ to the spread of the disease, as organisers are able to implement social distancing outdoors.
‘Both hunting and shooting are intrinsic parts of the countryside, both economically and socially,’ he said, adding: ‘Many areas of the countryside have suffered economically during the lockdown.’
He revealed he cancelled his own child’s birthday party to avoid breaking the rules.
He added: ‘Police officers will obviously assess the situation in front of them but in the end we all have an individual duty towards our collective health and we hope that view will prevail.
‘Police should start by encouraging people to comply and explaining to them what the situation is and impressing upon them the duty they have to our collective health. Only in the situation where individuals refuse to comply should police consider moving towards enforcement.’
No10 sparked further confusion by suggesting that police would not immediately start imposing fines on those who break the rules the first time.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation which represents rank-and-file officers, said: ‘If this was so important why did Boris Johnson wait to bring this rule of six in?
‘People have been going out drinking, meeting their friends potentially spreading the virus, essentially doing what they want over the weekend because they knew it wasn’t coming in until the next week.’
He predicted police would be distracted from frontline duties such as fighting knife crime, saying: ‘We have not got a never ending pot of officers, they will be distracted by curtain twitchers – people phoning up saying I’ve seen seven people in next door’s garden.’
Mr Marsh said the new rules were a ‘perfect storm’ for police amid a rise in crime levels and protests.
Police are also concerned about enforcing different rules in Wales and Scotland, where under-12s are exempt from the crackdown.
Groups of up to 30 can still gather outdoors in Wales as long as they maintain social distancing.