Indoor and outdoor social gatherings of more than six people will be banned in England from Monday as coronavirus restrictions are tightened. Although larger households are able to gather within their bubbles, some can no longer meet up with friends and family.
Before the pandemic hit, Alison Keen had planned a big party for her 40th birthday on 21 September. When lockdown happened, she postponed it until 2021 and instead had hoped for a family gathering. But now that too cannot go ahead.
She and her husband have four children, meaning the new “rule of six” applies solely to their family.
“I can’t meet up with anyone just because I’ve got kids,” said Mrs Keen, from Newcastle-under-Lyme.
“Mum’s upset that she can’t see me on my birthday and really annoyed that she could have come to see the kids last week, but not next week.”
Mrs Keen said allowing her children, between six and 11, to go back to school but not have family gatherings “seems daft”.
Her parents, who live in Birmingham, will still be able to see Mrs Keen’s two sisters, who both have fewer children and can meet up without exceeding six people.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new rules “to avoid a second national lockdown” as the rate of infection climbs across the country.
It applies both indoors and outdoors and to all ages – although there are some exemptions, such as gatherings for work or school.
The new rules will be enforced by police who will have powers to issue fines and make arrests.
“I get they’re trying to simplify the rules, but that’s not how viruses work,” said Mrs Keen.
“At the end of the day it’s a new virus and as you learn, policies have to evolve. But it feels awful.”
Dee Jones, a mum of six from Telford, said the new restrictions means she won’t be able to see all of her children, five of whom have moved out and married.
She works two jobs and so only has one weekend off each month – the family would normally use that weekend to get together for a big meal.
“We can’t do that now, unless my son-in-law sits out in the garden and eats his dinner there.”
The “rule of six” will make it almost impossible to arrange seeing her family and already they are having to do so “almost on a rota”.
She said a turkey, bought for the family’s Easter meal, had been “stuck in the freezer all throughout lockdown – if I didn’t laugh about it I would have cried”, adding she was finding the restrictions “quite depressing”.
“Honestly, it’s ridiculous. I’m frustrated. We’ve done what we’ve been advised and there are clearly people out there who haven’t.”
Stephanie Raheel, from Yardley in Birmingham, has three children, Alina, Amaya and Arissa.
Her husband’s parents are at the heart of their family and they would usually meet them regularly with extended family members.
To go back to stricter measures will be hard, she said, “especially for the children – it’s hard for them to understand”.
Mrs Raheel’s children, aged between three and six, have returned to school and nursery but she worries the restrictions will mean the older people in her family will miss out on special moments with her young daughters.
“Within our family we’ve had two babies born in lockdown,” she said. “The key moments, you want to celebrate with your loved ones.
“The grandparents too, they love to see the little ones.”
Mrs Raheel said her mother-in-law is due to have an eye operation next week, something her husband and his six brothers are keen to support her with.
“We’ll all just want to go and see her and check she’s OK – when people are in need, it’s difficult.”
She is not sure how the family will be able to keep checking in on loved ones without breaking the new restrictions, but thinks they will just have to take it in turns to visit.
“Everyone is just a little bit puzzled about why it is six people, and they’re not shutting restaurants and pubs – it just doesn’t make any sense.
“There are so many different things you’re allowed to do and not allowed to do, we just have to accept that’s the way it is.”
Additional reporting by Joanna Tidman
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