England's Covid restrictions: the 'rule of sex' and other quirks

Peter Walker
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: d3sign/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: d3sign/Getty Images

The longer the coronavirus lockdown lasts, the more complex the suite of rules governing everyday behaviour seemingly become, despite the government’s efforts to simplify matters with the rule of six.

A new set of restrictions was unveiled on Tuesday, with the full regulations due to be published later on Wednesday. Here are some nuances and quirks to have emerged so far. These apply only to the default rules for England; they differ in other UK nations and where stricter local lockdowns are in force.

Christenings will be exclusive affairs

While you can have up to 30 people at funerals, and 15 at weddings or wedding receptions, christenings are subject to the rule of six – a number which includes the infant. So forget uncles and aunts; there will not even be space for the full complement of grandparents.

There is a reason the wedding limit is higher

While officials say the aim of the rules is to reduce contact as much as possible at events where there likely to be limited distancing, having a cap of six at weddings would make ceremonies under traditional Jewish beliefs effectively impossible.

The requirement of minyan decrees that there must be at least 10 adult men present for certain religious events to take place. Thus 15 is seen as a compromise – if very much limiting the number of female guests.

Watch: Coronavirus - 'Rule of six' explained

Casual sex is allowed (or maybe it’s not)

Government guidance updated on Tuesday says that rules on social distancing are not necessary if it is “someone you’re in an established relationship with”, but whether this means three dates or six months is not specified.

The Sun wrote this up to say that while couples who don’t live together can have sex, “casual bonking” is still not permitted.

But asked about this during a sometimes uncomfortable section of the regular Downing Street media briefing on Wednesday, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said this was not the case, and that the only law which applied was the rule of six. “That is not an area on which any announcement has been made pertaining to the law,” he said.

Masks are compulsory in cabs, but not chauffeur-driven cars

The new rules set out that passengers must wear masks in taxis or other private-hire vehicles such as minicabs or Uber cars. If you are rich enough to employ a chauffeur, this is not the law on the basis that, unlike a cab driver, they do not face the germs of a series of passengers.

If you do have a chauffeur, however, as an employer you will need to ensure they work in a Covid-secure way, which brings its own complex set of rules.

And what of, say, a government minister – who might have a driver but from a pool, and not always the same person? A Downing Street spokesman said ministers “will follow the guidance in the same way as everybody else” – but added that they did not immediately know what the rules were in this case.

No 10 later said that Johnson and his ministers would wear masks in government cars.

It’s table service only in a pub – but not a McDonald’s

The change to require table service only in hospitality businesses caught out Dominic Raab on Wednesday, with the foreign secretary saying this would still be the case for counter-ordering outlets like McDonald’s and Pret a Manger.

In fact, the table service rule only applies to venues which serve alcohol. You will be able to order a Big Mac from a counter – but if you are eating in, you must sit down to do so.

There are a few exceptions, for venues which provide alcohol but not as a key part of their trade. Thus, if a cinema sells alcohol you can still buy a beer or glass of wine from the bar to drink while watching the film.

Drink up faster in England than Wales

10pm curfews for the hospitality sector vary in meaning. In England, Johnson said these businesses must close at 10pm, rather than just calling for last orders, to help police enforce the rule. In Wales, pubs and bars will be able to remain open past 10pm to allow people “to drink up, to eat up, to bring their evening to an orderly close”, but must stop selling alcohol after that time, said the first minister, Mark Drakeford.

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