Hopes dashed of large family gatherings for Christmas as Boris Johnson outlines new clampdown on socialising

Boris Johnson has said it “breaks his heart” to impose stricter coronavirus restrictions on families as hopes that groups will be able to gather for Christmas became ever more dashed.

The Prime Minister admitted today that the rules surrounding social contact during the pandemic had “become quite complicated and confusing”, as he launched a new ‘rule of six’ message detailing the maximum number of people who can meet both indoors and outdoors.

He said venues would now be mandated to take details for the track and trace programme, whereas previously it was voluntary, and councils would introduce Covid-secure marshalls to help ensure social distancing in town and city centres.

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Curfews will be introduced in limited areas to begin with, and Border Force officials will crack down on tracing forms being completed by those entering the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a virtual press conference at Downing Street, London, following the announcement that the legal limit on social gatherings is set to be reduced from 30 people to six. The change in the law in England will come into force on Monday as the Government seeks to curb the rise in coronavirus cases. Photo: PA

But the Prime Minister faced criticism as in July he had said: “"It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest - possibly in time for Christmas.”

Today, positivity had been tempered, as he said it was “too early to say” when asked whether families will have smaller gatherings at Christmas without a mass testing regime between now and then.

He added: “I’m sorry about that, and I wish that we did not have to take this step.

“But as your Prime Minister, I must do what is necessary to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. And of course we will keep the rule of six under constant review and only keep it in place as long as is necessary.”

The data showed that cases in young people, specifically those between 19 and 21, were most worrying, and Mr Johnson issued a direct plea to students going to university to not socialise with large groups, with institutions themselves told not to send students home in the case of an outbreak.

But the PM said he was hopeful a “moonshot” plan to have regular testing would allow life to return to more normality.

He said: “We are working hard to increase our testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.

“But in future, in the near future, we want to start using testing to identify people who are negative – who don’t have coronavirus and who are not infectious – so we can allow them to behave in a more normal way, in the knowledge they cannot infect anyone else with the virus.

“And we think, we hope, we believe that new types of test which are simple, quick and scalable will become available.”

But it came as human trials of the coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have been put on hold owing to a reported side effect in a patient in the UK.

AstraZeneca said it was investigating whether the patient’s reported side effect is connected with the vaccine.

He added: “Workplaces could be opened up to all those who test negative that morning and allow them to behave in a way that was normal before Covid.

“Those isolating because they are a contact, or quarantining after travelling abroad could, after a period, be tested and released.

“Now that is an ambitious agenda, but we are going to pilot this approach in Salford from next month, with audiences in indoor and outdoor venues.

“And then we hope to go nationwide.”