A new, more robust chapter in English coronavirus regulations begins on Monday, with fines of up to £10,000 for people who refuse to self-isolate when asked, and enforcement including tip-offs from people who believe that others are breaching the rules.
The changes come with the duty to self-isolate moving into law. It becomes a legal obligation if someone is told to do so by test-and-trace staff, but not for those simply using the Covid-19 phone app, which is anonymous.
At the same time, the government is introducing a new system of payments of £500 for people on lower incomes who are unable to work because of the mandatory 14-day self-isolation, a system being implemented by councils.
The two-pronged approach, intended to create better compliance with self-isolation rules, was described by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, as “imperative” in helping keep down coronavirus infection rates.
According to a health department statement setting out the new system, local authorities are expected to have their test-and-trace support schemes up and running within two weeks, with those self-isolating before then given backdated payments as needed.
However, the Local Government Association, which represents councils, has warned it will be “challenging” for these to be set up at speed, adding that “urgent clarity is needed about how councils will be reimbursed for costs of setting up these schemes and the payments themselves”.
To be eligible for the payment, people must have been told to self-isolate by test and trace – having tested positive for coronavirus or being in close contact with someone who has – as well as having lost income as a result, and be recipients of one or more of a series of benefits, including universal credit, income support and housing benefit.
Those who do not self-isolate when told to could face fines, which start at £1,000 and rise to £10,000 for repeat offences, or those who instigate breaches of the law, such as an employer who orders or permits people to come to work when they should not.
Test-and-trace call handlers will check on those told to self-isolate, with police taking a role in areas or groups seen as high risk, as well as acting on tip-offs from neighbours or others who spot suspected breaches, the government announcement said.
Hancock said: “These simple steps can make a huge difference to reduce the spread of the virus, but we will not hesitate to put in place further measures if cases continue to rise.”
The health department announced separately that it hoped NHS and care workers would have an “uninterrupted supply” of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, aprons and gowns, due to increased UK manufacturing and a stockpile of 32bn items. A drive to increase production of PPE in the UK meant that by December, 70% of the expected demand will be met domestically, it said.
The government said that, as of 9am on Sunday, there had been a further 5,693 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, taking the overall confirmed total to 434,969, and a further 17 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Sunday, bringing the UK total to 41,988.