Tough amendments to recently introduced lockdown restrictions in North-East England are to be introduced in a bid to stem the rise in Covid-19 cases.
The harsher measures will affect about two million people and were announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Mr Hancock said mixing between households in any indoor setting, such as pubs, bars and restaurants, will be against the law from Wednesday.
People flouting the rules and taking part in an illegal gathering could be dispersed by police, the Department for Health and Social Care said, and over 18 can be fined and could face a £200 charge for their first offence, which would be halved if paid within 14 days.
Second offences would incur a £400 fine, which would then double for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £6,400.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was necessary to bring in the additional measure due to the fact the infection rate had exceeded 100 cases in every 100,000 people in areas in the region, adding it to a list of extra restrictions which were brought earlier this month.
The ban applies to seven areas: Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland.
In an interview earlier today a government minister was unable to clarify whether new restrictions banning households in the North East from meeting indoors applies to pub and restaurant gardens. Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme , education minister Ms Keegan said: “I’m sorry I can’t clarify that. I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure they can find out the answer to that question.”
Pressed on how people are meant to keep up to date with the latest restrictions when ministers cannot, she said: “I’m sorry I can’t answer that question. I’m sure there are many people who could. I don’t represent the North East.”
Labour said ministers “don’t know what’s going on” after Gillian Keegan said she did not fully understand the new rules, some 15 hours before they were to be imposed on Wednesday.