Boris Johnson has promised to double the maximum fines doled out to people who “repeatedly” flout rules on wearing face coverings as he confirmed the latest moves to ease some of England’s coronavirus restrictions.
No.10 said fines for repeat offenders would double to a maximum of £3,200, while new penalties will be introduced for people hosting raves and other unlawful gatherings of more than 30 people.
At the the same time, the prime minister is confirming that delayed moves to reopen bowling alleys, skating rinks, casinos and soft-play areas will now go ahead from this weekend.
Wedding receptions for up to 30 people and some indoor performances will also be permitted as of Saturday, No.10 announced.
But those easements will not apply in the string of places in the UK which remain subject to local Covid-19 measures.
Unveiling the changes, Johnson said: “Most people in this country are following the rules and doing their bit to control the virus, but we must remain focused and we cannot be complacent.
“That is why we are strengthening the enforcement powers available to use against those who repeatedly flout the rules.”
Home secretary Priti Patel added: “Coronavirus remains a real and present threat to all of us and the majority of the British public are doing the right thing.
“I will not stand by and see these sacrifices undermined by a small minority of senseless individuals.
“These measures send a clear message – if you don’t cooperate with the police and if you put our health at risk, action will follow.”
Masks are currently mandatory in England on public transport and in a host of indoor venues including shops and supermarkets, banks, hairdressers and visitor attractions.
The current rules say people should “wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it”.
No.10 said the face covering fines would be “significantly increased in the coming weeks”, with on-the-spot penalties for “hosting or facilitating illegal gatherings of more than 30 people“ also set to be introduced.
The reopening of culture, sport and leisure venues meanwhile comes after the Office for National Statistics said a rise in people testing positive for Covid-19 appeared to be “levelling off” when compared with the previous week’s figures.
The most recent ONS infection survey data – which covers the week 3 to 9 August – show that there were around 0.69 new Covid-19 infections for every 10,000 people in England, equating to around 3,800 new cases per day.
At the time the prime minister paused the government's "roadmap" to lift lockdown measures, new infections stood at around 4,200 a day.
'Put on the brakes'
The changes mean indoor theatres, music and performance venues will be allowed to reopen with socially-distanced audiences; larger wedding receptions will be allowed if they involve a sit-down meal for up to 30 guests; and a “small number” of sporting events can resume with spectators.
Ministers are also eyeing a wider return of sporting venues from 1 October.
Indoor play areas, bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos will also be given the go-ahead to reopen from Saturday, while beauty salons, tattoo studios, spas and barbers will now be allowed to offer close contact services including facials and eyelash treatments.
But staff in close contact services – including hairdressers – will now be expected to wear a face mask of surgical quality as well as a clear visor covering their face to help protect themselves and customers from virus transmission.
No.10 said it would keep the measures under review, with more detail on the fines “in the coming week”.
Johnson said: “At every stage I have said our plan to reopen society and the economy is conditional and that it relies on continued progress against the virus.
“Today, we are able to announce some further changes which will allow more people to return to work and the public to get back to more of the things they have missed.
“However, as I have always said, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if required, or to continue to implement local measures to help to control the spread of the virus.”
While the mask enforcement moves are expected to apply across England, the easing of measures will not take effect in parts of the country subject to local Covid-19 restrictions including Manchester, Oldham and Bradford.
Matt Honeycombe-Foster is acting editor of CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this article first appeared.