Ministers change heart over Covid restrictions

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

  • Published
Boris JohnsonImage source, PA Media

There is more than one "rule of six". Who knew?

It's what a legendary Hollywood film editor used to describe the best of way making a must-watch movie, mixing six different elements like emotion and space (his name is Walter Murch, if you are on the hunt for trivia).

The other rule of six is part of the code that rules corporate takeovers, more familiar to City lawyers. You may indeed have your own obscure examples.

But ministers hope now the government's new rule of six will very quickly become familiar to the country and will immediately change people's behaviour too.

From Monday, it will be illegal in England, apart from at school or work or under other few exceptions, to meet more than five other people at a time.

The police will have the power to stop that happening - you can read exactly how the new restrictions will work here.

After weeks when the government has been trying to cheerlead the country back to the office, urging pupils back to school and taking steps to roll back coronavirus restrictions it is quite the change of tone, change of pace, and change of heart.

The prime minister also acknowledged publicly, after many weeks of questions about the layers of anomalies and different rules and regulations, that complicated messages had made the rules hard for people to follow.

Boris Johnson can hope that the public in England will be willing to follow a new, clearer instruction. But it is not obvious that the public will all comply.

The reason for the change however, as we discussed yesterday, is crystal clear.

The number of cases has started to rise, and rise quickly, and ministers want to slam on the brakes.

The new rule is a significant move, and it's plain it could mean limits on our lives for many months. The prime minister today acknowledged that even Christmas may not be much like normal.

The changes are designed to prevent the disease taking off again, and to stop the need for another full national lockdown, something the government is desperate to avoid.

Opening hours

But other measures are waiting in the wings too.

At the bottom of the government's guidance issued today, there is a rather bland, technical sounding paragraph:

"The government will restrict the opening hours of premises, initially in local lockdown areas, with the option of national action in the future. This has been introduced in Bolton, following a steep rise in cases, and will seek to restrict activities that may lead to a spread in the virus."

In other words, if the rise in cases doesn't slow, the government could bring in a national curfew on opening hours, a more radical step.

Government sources emphasise this is not about to happen.

But by laying out the option, it's clear the rule of six could be followed by more radical steps.