Coronavirus restrictions: Boris Johnson’s Cabinet torn on new limits – but Hancock wins

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The new COVID-19 rule, which limits social gatherings to six people, triggered a major divide among the senior Tory ranks with a number of ministers furious over the changes, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak. A source said the rule was opposed by every single one of Mr Johnson’s coronavirus strategy committee but Mr Hancock was the driving force behind the decision, supported by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, during a meeting on Tuesday.

The source told the Daily Mail: “Everyone apart from Hancock wanted to set the limit on groups at eight or more.

“Even the Prime Minister was initially cautious about taking the limit all the way down to six.

“The majority view was that this level of social distancing will have a huge impact on people’s lives and the economy. But Hancock got his way.”

Senior Tories want younger children to be exempt from the so-called “rule of six” in England.

The new social distancing rules in England will limit social gatherings to groups of just six people both indoors and outside from Monday.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced changes for the hospitality sector, making it mandatory for customers to wear face coverings “whenever they are moving around and not eating or drinking”.

She also introduced the “rule of six” from no more than two households.

Meanwhile, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford is expected to confirm that people will only be able to meet in groups of six or under indoors from Monday.

But people will also still be able to meet up in groups of up to 30 outdoors, as long as they maintain social distancing.

It comes as coronavirus rates continue to increase across parts of the UK with Leeds and Birmingham among areas at risk of further lockdown measures.

The most recent data for the seven days to September 7 showed Birmingham had the second highest rate of new cases in the country at 85.4 per 100,000 people and 975 new cases while Leeds had 536 new cases and a rate of 67.6.

On Thursday Mr Hancock defended the Government’s ambitious mass COVID-19 testing proposals in the face of laughter and heckling in Parliament.

He hit out at the “naysayers” in the House of Commons when outlining the Operation Moonshot plans, which aim to see millions of UK-wide tests carried out daily with results available in 90-to-20 minutes but have been criticised as overly ambitious and relying on technology that does not yet exist.

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