Fines of up to £10,000 for failing to self-isolate 

Boris Johnson cracks down as he prepares to impose even tougher restrictions on households and leisure

Police presence at an anti-vax protest in London's Trafalgar Square
Police presence at an anti-vax protest in London's Trafalgar Square

People who break coronavirus rules will be fined up to £10,000 from next week after Boris Johnson’s most senior scientific advisers warned him that the public’s failure to follow lockdown rules was allowing the pandemic to spiral out of control again.

As deaths and infections continued to mount this weekend, Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, told the Prime Minister that compliance with the rules was among the worst in Europe.

The new fines – starting at £1,000 for a breach and rising sharply to £10,000 for repeat offenders – apply to anyone who fails to self-isolate after being contacted by the NHS’s Test and Trace teams from Monday next week.

Police will be ordered out on patrol in areas with the highest infections (see graphic below) to check people who have been ordered to isolate are complying with the new laws, with neighbours also asked to report their suspicions.

The Prime Minister spent Saturday considering proposals to stop a second wave of the virus, with Government sources warning that Britain’s death toll would be in the hundreds within weeks. An announcement could come as early as Tuesday.

Options under discussion are believed to range from a three-week national shutdown of pubs, bars and restaurants, to a traffic light system to manage multiple local lockdowns.

Mr Johnson is also considering raising the £100 fines for breaking the “rule of six” – which outlaw groups of seven or more – to as much as £1,000 for a first offence, after alarming internal Downing Street figures showed widespread flouting of the rules.

Mr Johnson said: “The best way we can fight this virus is by everyone following the rules and self-isolating if they’re at risk of passing on coronavirus.

“And so nobody underestimates just how important this is, new regulations will mean you are legally obliged to do so if you have the virus or have been asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.

“People who choose to ignore the rules will face significant fines. We need to do all we can to control the spread of this virus, to prevent the most vulnerable people from becoming infected, and to protect the NHS and save lives.”

The news came as:

  • Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick are expected to address the public by video as soon as Monday.

  • Newly confirmed daily cases of coronavirus hit 4,422 – topping 4,000 for two consecutive days for the first time since early May – while another 27 people died. Cases of the virus and hospital admissions for Covid-19 are doubling every seven to eight days in the UK. 

  • Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, who met Mr Johnson on Friday, was said by friends to be willing to consider “creative” measures to support clubs, bars and restaurants if there was a further lockdown. The Sunday Telegraph understands that talks with the hospitality industry started last Friday, with 900,000 jobs at risk and takings halved in areas under curfew. 

  • As part of a “carrot and stick” approach, those on low incomes required to self-isolate will be eligible for a £500 Test and Trace Support payment.

Business owners who threaten self-isolating staff with redundancy if they do not come to work will also be fined, sending a clear message that this will not be tolerated.

Ahead of Mr Johnson’s decision, one faction of the Cabinet is urging him to avoid another national lockdown, by splitting the country into three tiers of coronavirus risk zones.

Under the plans, agreed by his coronavirus committee on Friday night and now with the Prime Minister, some areas would be put into more draconian measures, with others maintaining current levels of freedom. One supporter of the “traffic light” system said: “A three-tier approach gives greater clarity and consistency. At the moment there is a range of different measures being applied in different places and that lacks clarity.”

However, a senior No 10 source said such a system could encourage people to visit other areas and increase the spread of the virus from region to region unless road blocks were enforced.

The source said: “If you locked down London would you get a situation where everyone flooded out to the Home Counties? Do you end up spreading the virus? We have a local lockdown strategy that has been very effective. That is going to continue. The question is now what further national measures do we take?”

Some senior ministers are pushing for tighter “Ireland-style” national measures that could last three weeks. In Dublin, social and family gatherings were banned indoors, restaurants were banned from allowing people to dine indoors and travel restrictions in and out of the city were imposed, except for work and essential journeys.

Mr Johnson hardened his approach after Prof Whitty and Sir Patrick said Germany and Sweden had managed to stop surging infections as compliance was higher than in the UK.

A senior source said: “Chris and Patrick made the point this week to the PM that one of the reasons that Germany and Sweden are faring relatively well at Covid was because of the public’s general compliance.

"They raised their concerns and one of the ways to bring that up is additional enforcement.”

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association warned that the NHS would “once again be crippled” unless the Government introduced stronger coronavirus measures.

The new rules

Q: What is the new law?

People in England are required by law to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid-19 or are informed by NHS Test and Trace that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

Q: What does self-isolate mean?

Stay at home and do not leave the house for 14 days.

Q: When does the law come into effect?

September 28.

Q: What happens if I don't self-isolate?

Fines start at £1,000. They can increase up to £10,000 and prosecution may be sought for repeat offenders and the most serious breaches (e.g. business owners who threaten self-isolating staff with redundancy if they do not come to work).

Q: What happens if I have to self-isolate but can't work from home?

A one-off £500 payment will be made by local authorities to those on lower incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result.

Q: Who is eligible for the payment?

Employed and self-employed people currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit. Individuals will receive this payment on top of any Statutory Sick Pay or benefits they receive.

Q: How will the new law be enforced?

NHS Test and Trace call handlers will make regular contact with self-isolators and escalate suspicions of non-compliance to the police and local authorities. Information from people who report others for non-compliance will be investigated. Police resources will be used to check compliance in highest incidence areas.

Q: Is anyone exempt from the law?

Those who need to escape from illness or harm during their isolation, or require care.