England bans gatherings of more than 6 as virus cases spike

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Students observe social distancing with some wearing face masks, as they take part in a dance session as classes resume at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts drama school following its closure due to coronavirus, in Peckham, south London, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP)

LONDON – Britain's government is banning gatherings of more than six people in England, as officials try to keep a lid on daily new coronavirus infections after a sharp spike across the U.K. that has been largely blamed on party-going young adults disregarding social distancing rules.

Downing Street said urgent action was needed after the number of daily laboratory-confirmed positive cases hit nearly 3,000 on Sunday. The figure dipped Tuesday to 2,460.

Officials said that starting Monday, the legal limit on all social gatherings in England will be reduced from the current 30 people to six. The new law applies both indoors and outdoors, including private homes, restaurants and parks. Failure to comply could result in a 100-pound ($130) fine.

Weddings, school, funerals and organized team sports are exempt, and larger gatherings will also be allowed if the household or “support bubble” is larger than six.

Government ministers and scientists took to the airways to urge Britons not to let down their guard.

“We’ve been able to relax a bit over the summer ... but these latest figures really show us that much as people might like to say ‘Oh well, it’s gone away’ — this hasn’t gone away," said Dr. Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer.

He said while the rise in infections is “much more marked” among people between 17 and 21, he was concerned about a “more general and creeping geographic trend” across the U.K.

“People have relaxed too much,” he said. “Now is the time for us to re-engage and realize that this is a continuing threat.”