Two families of four stopping for a chat in the street would contravene England’s “rule of six” coronavirus restrictions and constitute mingling, the home secretary has said.
“You have got to put this in the context of coronavirus and keeping distance, wearing masks,” Priti Patel told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people’s health at risk.”
She said she would report neighbours or any other group that she saw flouting the new restrictions banning social gatherings of more than six people, which came into place in England on Monday. People face fines of up to £3,200 if they break the new rule, which follows an increase in coronavirus cases.
Patel told Sky News: “I’m rarely at home but if I saw something that I thought was inappropriate then, quite frankly, I would call the police. It’s not dobbing in neighbours, it’s all about us taking personal responsibility.”
On Monday, the policing minister, Kit Malthouse, encouraged people to report their neighbours for not complying with the rule of six.
When questioned about Covid testing after widespread complaints about a lack of availability – even in places such as Bolton, which currently has the highest infection rate in England – Patel said it was wrong to suggest there were none available.
“Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place,” she told BBC Breakfast.
“I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available … And on top of that home-testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas.”
She said the government was increasing capacity: “Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.
“As a government, we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that.”
Separately, Patel denied the government was breaking international law with the latest Brexit developments and defended the controversial internal market bill, which passed by 77 votes on Monday.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis – who last week admitted in the house of commons that the bill broke international law “in a very specific and limited way” – was wrong, Patel said: “We are absolutely not doing that … the purpose of the bill is to ensure we preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom.”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, she added: “We ve said from day one … that we would always stand by our word and not compromise when it comes to unfettered access in goods and services but also standing by the Good Friday agreement.
“We are ensuring the UK internal market bill stays true to that principle. That is why we are bringing this bill forward.”