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Refuse to wear a mask in England, and it will cost you. Fines now can run as high as $4,189

August 14, 2020, 10:55 AM UTC

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said England can resume the paused easing of lockdown rules, with theaters, casinos and beauty parlors allowed to reopen—but warned there will be tougher penalties for people who break social-distancing restrictions.

The government is trying to balance its desire to restart the economy with the risk of sparking a new surge of coronavirus infections. Parts of northern England remain under tighter localized restrictions after outbreaks.

In plans announced late Thursday, the government said that from Aug. 15:

  • Indoor performance venues can open
  • Wedding receptions can take place with up to 30 guests at a sit-down meal
  • Indoor play centers, bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos can open
  • Beauty salons, tattoo parlors, spas and barbers can offer “close contact” services

Sporting events will also start testing how to bring in spectators, starting with the World Snooker Championship this weekend.

But to enforce social-distancing rules, fines for not wearing a mask—currently 100 pounds ($130)—will now double with each repeated offense, to a maximum of 3,200 pounds ($4,189). And new fines will be introduced for hosting or facilitating gatherings of more than 30 people.

“Most people in this country are following the rules and doing their bit to control the virus, but we must remain focused and we cannot be complacent,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “That is why we are strengthening the enforcement powers available to use against those who repeatedly flout the rules.”

The extent to which Johnson’s government was caught out in the early stages of the virus was revealed earlier Thursday by a survey showing that 3.4 million people in England, or 6% of the population, have had coronavirus. That’s more than 12 times as many as the government was able to identify at the time, partly because of a shortage of testing capacity.

The government has now built that capacity up, and is testing a new contact-tracing app aimed at helping to identify people exposed to the virus. The goal is to be able to isolate individuals at risk without once again freezing the entire economy.