British interior minister Priti Patel on Tuesday urged people to comply with new anti-virus rules in England limiting social gatherings to groups of six, encouraging them to report lawbreakers to the police.
But there was consternation that grouse shooting and other hunting with guns would remain exempt, leading to accusations of double standards.
The new restrictions came into force on Monday across England to try to stem a resurgence in coronavirus cases but will not apply to large families, workplaces, weddings and funerals.
The government wants to avoid another nationwide lockdown and boost the flagging economy, even as the number of positive cases climbs to levels not seen since May.
“I think anybody would want to take responsibility and ensure we’re not spreading this awful disease and therefore if I saw gatherings of more than six people clearly I would report that,” Patel told the BBC.
The government has been accused of overreach by calling on people to tell the authorities about anyone flouting the new law.
The Sun tabloid, which carried a front-page headline “Snitch”, said there was “fury at minister’s call for rule of 6 snoops”.
The national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales meanwhile called for more guidance over how officers should enforce the rules.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters Monday that officers would use their discretion before issuing fines.
“In the coming days if we see people continuing to flout the new rules it is right that people could face a fine,” he said. “The public will expect them to be enforced.”
The new “rule of six” has caused further confusion as to what is allowed, with the government accused of effectively outlawing children’s birthday parties.
But the HuffPost said grouse shoots of between six and 30 people were still allowed because it is covered by a loophole that permits licensed “outdoor activity”.
Luke Pollard, the main opposition Labour Party’s environment spokesman, hit out at exemption for hunting — a pastime more traditionally supported by Conservative voters.
“Once again, it’s one rule for the Cabinet and their mates, and another for the rest of us,” he said.
Even some Tory MPs were bemused by the move. Former sports minister Tracey Crouch called it “bonkers”.
“Many will find this topsy-turvy prioritisation from government,” she told HuffPost.