Even as American cities are struggling with whether to release coronavirus-related restrictions altogether, now that most major cities have seen thousand-individual protest that, in most cases, flouted social distancing recommendations and defied shelter-in-place orders, the United Kingdom is continuing to crack down on interpersonal contact, hoping to stop the spread of COVID-19 in its tracks.
According to Yahoo News UK, on Monday, a new set of provisions went into effect criminalizing gatherings of two or more between persons of different households, effectively declaring sex between two people who do not live together illegal.
“At 11:30 am on Monday, a change to the law was introduced that bans two people from different households in England gathering in an indoor, private place during the coronavirus lockdown,” the outlet reported, adding that the new amendment to the government’s “Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Bill” bans any “gathering which takes place in a public or private place indoors, and consists of two or more persons,” where there is no “reasonable excuse.”
The bill adds that “No person may, without reasonable excuse, stay overnight at any place other than the place where they are living.”
“An exception has not been made for couples who do not live together, meaning that they can spend time together outdoors but not inside,” the U.K.’s Independent added. “People who have sex outside can be punished under pre-existing laws on outraging public decency and indecent exposure.”
Previously, the government prohibited all unnecessary and unreasonable travel, making this change something of a loosening overall. But, at the same time, the bill closes a loophole that left only visitors criminally liable for breaking the coronavirus lockdown and not their hosts.
That loophole caused a number of high profile issues in recent weeks.
Neil Ferguson, the U.K.’s coronavirus advisor whose Imperial model predicted millions of deaths from the novel coronavirus if strict restrictions were not put into place, was forced to resign from his position after it was revealed that he broke his own recommended lockdown to visit with his “married lover,” per CNN. And last week, one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top advisors caused a nationwide scandal after he admitted to breaking his boss’s lockdown to visit family hundreds of miles from his home.
Many legal experts were left speechless by the new rule.
“I can’t believe I’m about to tweet this,” one human rights lawyer posted to social media. “From tomorrow sex between two (or more) people in a private place who do not live in the same household is a ‘gathering’ between 2 or more people and is therefore illegal.”
In a later interview with the Independent, he added that the amendment “effectively restricted ordinary contact by people in relationships who do not live together,” and called the measure “a significant restriction on our rights to privacy and family life, even though it may be justified by the severity of the public health risk.”
Fortunately for lovers who simply cannot be apart, the punishment for leaving home is minimal. Violators face a $125 fine. If the fine is paid within 14 days, it’s lowered to $75. Police have also said they do not intend to go into private homes to enforce the amendment.
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