The law allows a “qualifying group” – either a single family or a group of up to six people – to attend larger events such as organised protests, indoor and outdoor sports classes, and political events.
But they cannot “mingle with any person who is participating in the gathering but is not a member of the same qualifying group as them”, according to the Government’s rules.
Barrister Adam Wagner, who has been analysing the coronavirus laws in the last five months, said last night this is the first time the term “mingle” has been used in British legal history, and questioned how it would be enforced.
“It’s illegal to mingle! What does mingle mean?”, he wrote on Twitter. “Is saying hello to someone at a gathering ‘mingling’? What about holding the door open for them?”
The new coronavirus law is the latest in a string of rules to be pushed through by the government without first being debated and scrutinised in Parliament.
Ministers have been announcing the rules and publishing guidance in advance, but the actual law has only been published shortly before coming into effect.
Restaurants, gyms, and places of worship are exempt from the new “rule of six”, which carries a fine of £100 for a breach and a maximum penalty of £3,200 for repeat offenders.
The Met Police said today it will continue its “engage, explain and encourage” policy before issuing fines to suspected rule breakers, but urged Londoners to “comply” with the new rules.
Cabinet ministers were reportedly split on how strict the new law should be, debating whether groups of eight should be allowed, while the Government has been criticised for including young children in any group of six in England despite them being exempt in Wales and Scotland.
The tougher new regulations are a response to rising numbers of cases of coronavirus, amid warnings that the country could go back into a “hard lockdown” if the spread of the virus is not brought back under control.