Boris Johnson said at a Downing Street press briefing that the new restrictions were essential
English parents are threatening to ignore the new 'rule of six' after Nicola Sturgeon exempted children from the similar ban in Scotland.
Boris Johnson now faces a Tory backlash after the Scottish First Minister copied his restrictions - but with the crucial difference that children under 12 would be exempt.
Ms Sturgeon announced there would be a maximum of six people for social groups - but gave potential hope for family gatherings and Christmas celebrations by excluding children under 12 from the limit.
A backlash to the plans was gathering pace today, with Conservative MPs warning that the restrictions might be 'worse than the disease itself', condemning the 'broad brush' approach and unhappy that there has not been any scrutiny in Parliament.
The new restrictions have also drawn the ire of parents, some of whom say the plans make little sense with children already back in school.
Some say they will accept whatever fine comes their way, refusing to let the PM 'ruin Christmas'.
There are fears within his party that Mr Johnson might be seen as the 'Grinch' if the block on families spending time together is still in place for the festive season.
Tory MP Steve Baker told MailOnline: 'I doubt the government's measures can long endure when it is becoming clear that they are disproportionate.'
David Jones MP said: 'I can understand that the Government has to do something, because there is certainly an uptick. But it is not an uptick across the country as a whole. There are some parts of the country such as Devon, Dorset where there is very little virus activity at all.
'So it does seem to be very broad brush... I would have thought something more concentrated would be better.'
He added that while crowded pubs had been 'asking for trouble' it was 'not something that appears to be uniform across the country'.
'Something more focused would be appropriate,' he said.
Parents have also voiced concern over the new measures. Mother-of-three Laura Cole, 32, said she had 'no doubt' that the exemption for children should be introduced in England.
'The schools have been allowed to open again and the schools are all together so I feel it's a little irrelevant the children have been included in this,' Mrs Cole told MailOnline.
She added: 'The beginning of lockdown it was easy to explain to [the children] you couldn't go out.
'Now they're back at school again with their year group bubbles, trying to explain to them you can't go to the park after school again with friends, we're not going to be able to.'
Mrs Cole, whose children are aged 14, 10 and 7, said that the new rules would especially hamper the lives of the young, adding that Scotland's exemption for those under 12 was a 'brilliant idea'.
The rate of infection per 100,000 people in the UK has remained very low among younger children, despite rising among teenagers and young adults
Slides presented at the press conference last show that young adults are driving the increase in Covid cases - but the incidence among young children and the older generation remains very low
Mrs Cole said: 'My son, he's 14, he meets up on the way to school with a group of people... is he not going to be able to do that now?'
Speaking of the coming festive season, Mrs Cole said: 'Christmas is a time for family. Both be and my husband have got very big family.'
Ministers have praised Belgium for curtailing a second wave of coronavirus by limiting the number of people who can socialise together and imposing curfews.
The European country experienced a resurgence of the virus in mid-July that was comparable to the UK's current trajectory.
On July 29, officials there brought in new rules reducing the size of social 'bubbles' so that each family could only have five fixed contacts.
However, under-12s were not included in the numbers.
The city of Antwerp, the worst hit in the country, brought in a curfew at the end of July that every member of the public must be home between 11.30am and 6am.
In mid-August the curfew period was eased to 1.30am to 5am.
There is a limit of four people sitting at a table together in restaurants, unless they are from the same household.
Plans to reopen nightclubs and major events have also been put on hold.
In Brussels, wearing a face mask became compulsory in all public areas on 12 August.
Police have also been enforcing the rules more strictly.
Coronavirus infections started to rise in Belgium in mid-July, with the weekly case rate going over 35 per 100,000 by August- the level currently being felt in Britain - and daily infections breaching 1,000.
The numbers have fallen over recent weeks, with only 194 new cases reported on September 1.
Alluding to the six person limit, she said that, as a family of five, they would only be able to host one relative at a time.
She said: 'We're not going to have my father-in-law with his wife... how are we going to manage that?'
'We're still going to see those people but probably one at a time.
When asked if she though people will stick to these rules, Mrs Cole said: 'Absolutely not.'
'I'm not taking importance away from the fact that this is a very dangerous virus and it is killing people.'
She added: 'I think it will be a rule broken by all, especially on Christmas Day, if not before.'
Others have voiced their disapproval for the new policy on social media. One commenter said: 'Why should kids count, they are all in school in groups bigger than six.'
Another said: 'Makes far more sense to me not to include kids under 12 from ''Rule of 6'' when already going to school?'
A third said: 'Boris is killing the economy. At least kids under 12 not included in Scotland. Madness to include under 12s in England.'
The developments came as it emerged more than two thirds of people in England are being forced into stricter coronavirus rules from Monday despite living in relatively unaffected areas.
Around 38million residents will be lumped into lockdown as the nation is told to 'limit social contact' and face fines or police action if they meet in groups of more than six people.
Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government's latest assessment was that the R rate was over one, and 'possibly as high as 1.5.
Tory MPs confronted Matt Hancock in the Commons chamber as he defended the new measures.
Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 backbench committee, said the 'profound restrictions' had not been considered enough.
He asked Mr Hancock: 'Why has there not been a debate or vote in the House of Commons this week?'
Former minister Harriet Baldwin said she was concerned the government was imposing 'more restrictions on people's liberty'.
She said the goal previously had been to avoid the NHS being swamped. 'Has he now gone further and is he aiming for zero Covid in England?' she added.
Sir Desmond Swayne asked the minister: 'Is there no scintilla of doubt in (his) mind occasioned by the growing body of scientific opinion which questions the interpretation of the data and concludes that the policies of governments, I use the plural, the policies of governments are having an impact worse than the disease itself?'
Mr Hancock replied: 'I firmly believe, not only based on the clinical advice, but also based on my own analysis of and judgment of the facts and the international comparisons, that it is necessary for the public health of the nation to take actions to control the spread of the disease.'
Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that the R rate could be as high as 1.5 north of the border, as she announced that a planned easing of restriction would not be going ahead from next week
Another MP told MailOnline Mr Johnson would unfairly end up being seen as 'the Grinch' if the restrictions dragged on to Christmas - especially as Ms Sturgeon was being more permissive.
'It is not him. It is not who he is,' the MP lamented.
One normally-loyal backbencher said they were completely miserable about the situation.
'I hate it. I think it is stupid... if it's got to be done it has got to be done, but I don't like it,' they said. 'You think ''boll***s to this, we should let it all drop now.'
The MP added grudgingly: 'I suppose if they do all this and it stops another lockdown it will be worth it.'
In other coronavirus developments:Scientists have voiced serious doubts about a 'Moonshot' £100billion plan mooted by Mr Johnson to ease lockdown by testing 10million people a day; Portugal and Denmark are on the verge of being added to the UK's quarantine list after a surge in cases; Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg is self-isolating after one of his six children started showing coronavirus symptoms; Scotland has launched its own contact tracing app, despite England and Wales still not having a working one in place; Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine trial has been put on hold for safety reasons, although it is expected to resume in the coming days.
Although cases have risen, the positive test rate - how many people test positive out of all those tested - has not reached levels seen during the pandemic. This gives an indication that some cases are due to more focused testing in hotspots
Data shows young children are unlikely to get severely ill with the disease and it is even more rare that they die, with adults far more vulnerable.
It is not clear, however, how much children contribute to the spread of the virus, which has been made difficult to measure due to worldwide school closures.
Here is some of the most prominent - and confusing - research into the topic:
Children spread the virus 'six times less than adults do'
Children are six times less likely to spread coronavirus than adults, a study has claimed.
The research by Sant Joan de Déu Barcelona Children's Hospital tracked how the coronavirus spread in a group of 1,900 people, mostly children, who spent five weeks at summer camps in Spain.
They were mixing in similar situations to schools but spent most of their time outdoors and not in classrooms, the researchers in Barcelona said.
Swab testing every week found 30 infected children passed the virus on to just 12 others, despite having more than 250 close contacts in their 'bubble'.
The children's R rate - the number of people an infected person transmits the virus to - was 0.3. In comparison, the R rate of the local area was 1.7 to 2, meaning the children were six times less infectious than the general population.
No healthy child has died from Covid in Britain
Healthy children do not die of coronavirus and only those who were seriously ill before they caught the disease are at risk, a major UK study has confirmed.
No healthy child has died of the virus yet in the UK, researchers said.
Six children have died but all had other serious health problems such as cancer or cerebral palsy when they were struck down by Covid-19.
Research found that the risk to children is 'strikingly low', only a tiny proportion of them end up in hospital and deaths are 'exceptionally rare'.
Six children under the age of 15 have died of coronavirus in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic, along with nine 15 to 19-year-olds. This compares with 52,082 victims in all other age groups up to August 14, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Scientists led by the University of Liverpool found that one per cent of hospitalised children died, compared to a significantly higher 27 per cent of adults. This means that while one in four adults who ended up in hospital with Covid-19 died of it, only one in 100 children did.
The research was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal.
Children under 10 'more likely to die in an accident than of Covid-19'
Children under 10 years old are almost 20 times more likely to die from an accidental injury than of Covid-19, a study has claimed.
Scientists led by Newcastle University also found under-10s are twice as likely to die from flu than they are from the coronavirus.
When looking at the risk of Covid-19 deaths in those between the ages of 10 and 19, it was three times lower than the risk of dying from an injury.
Dr Sunil Bhopal, from Newcastle University's Population Health Sciences Institute, led the research and compared Covid-19 deaths with other causes of death in children from seven countries - the UK, the US, Italy, Germany, Spain, France and South Korea.
They calculated how many deaths would typically occur from all causes, other than Covid-19, from March 1 to July 31.
Mortality data from all causes was taken from 2017, along with three years' worth of flu data from each country's official records.
In an estimated total population of 137million, there were 78 child deaths from Covid-19 compared with an estimated 21,966 deaths from all causes.
Covid-19 accounted for 0.35 per cent of deaths in children aged to 19 years old.
On the other hand, there were 1,755 caused by unintentional injury. Injuries were not described in the study but may include car accidents or burns. And there were 178 deaths caused by the flu.
Older pupils spread the virus 'like adults do'
A study by Public Health England reportedly found that secondary school pupils are as likely to transmit coronavirus as adults.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said PHE findings due to be published later this year showed there was little risk from the Government's plans to reopen schools in England in September.
While preliminary results of the study — which separated children into those older than 10 and those younger —indicate that primary schools are not a significant danger, with just six positive test results out of 9,000 tested so far, it is believed that a difference was found in the older group.
A source claimed the study suggested that as pupils grow older 'their bodies start to act like small adults' as they spread the virus more effectively.
Schools are 'minor players' in the overall transmission of coronavirus
Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says schools are 'minor players' in the transmission of coronavirus, and 'we owe it to our children' to re-open schools.
He said parents should be 'reassured' by growing evidence from countries including Germany, Singapore and the Netherlands, which shows 'little significant transmission in schools'.
Professor Viner, who also sits on the Government's Scientific Advisory Group, said returning next month was likely to 'add little' to the reproduction rate of infection.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that reopening schools is one of the 'least risky things we can do'.
He said: 'There's always dangers with evidence but I think the evidence from around the world is starting to become convincing that for younger children, particularly primary school children, that they appear to be less likely to catch this virus, and they don't play a big role in transmitting it.'
Schoolchildren 'do not spread the virus as much as staff do'
Research in Australia – one of the only countries to keep its schools open during the pandemic – found that children do not transit the coronavirus to other people as much as staff do, suggesting adults are more capable of spreading the disease.
The team led by Professor Kristine Macartney found that 12 children and 15 adults were found to have attended schools or nurseries while infectious between 25 January to 10 April, when term ended.
The team showed that, of 633 close contacts of those people who were tested following symptoms, only 18 were found to have Covid-19.
Further analysis of a subset of schools showed the transmission rate between staff (4.4 per cent) was much higher than between children (0.3 per cent), suggesting children do not spread the virus as much as adults.
An Australian study found the transmission rate between staff (4.4 per cent) was much higher than between children (0.3 per cent), suggesting children do not spread the virus as much as adults
Teenagers 'spread the coronavirus as much as adults do'
A South Korean study found children under 10 transmitted less often to adults while those between the ages of 10 and 19 spread the virus as well as adults do.
The researchers at Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 5,706 infected people and studies their 59,073 contacts for around nine days to see who was later diagnosed.
Households with the older children had the highest rate of spread to other members—18.6 per cent— of any age group.
Only those in their 70s had an attack rate as high (18 per cent), followed by those in their 50s (17 per cent) and their 40s (11.8 per cent).
Households with younger children had the least spread, just 5.3 per cent, according to the findings which will be published in the autumn edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
A study in South Korea found those aged 10-19 passed the coronavirus on to 18.6 per cent of their household contacts, and 0.9 per cent of their contact outside the home
Children without symptoms 'may spread the disease more'
Independent SAGE — a group of experts set up with of providing 'robust, independent advice' to the UK Government during Covid-19 — has previously warned that children could spread coronavirus simply because they are not detected as a case.
Children may be just as likely to catch the coronavirus as adults but don't seem to be diagnosed often.
This is for two reasons — children to do not show the typical symptoms that adults to, if at all, and testing was only expanded to children in May.
A report from Independent SAGE published in May, which discussed whether schools should re-open on June 1, said: 'Studies have shown that between one per cent and five per cent of diagnosed Covid-19 cases are in children, but many children may be undiagnosed because up to a third of infected children never develop any symptoms...
'However, the impact of placing many children in one place could lead schools to become "institutional amplifiers" if asymptomatic children go unnoticed until an adult becomes symptomatic.'
Children's viral loads are up to 100 times higher than adults', making them more infectious
Children under five years old can transmit the novel coronavirus just as easily as older kids can, a study in July claimed.
Researchers from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago looked at 145 patients who developed moderate Covid-19 within a week of symptoms, according to the findings published in JAMA Pediatric.
Three groups were compared: children younger than age five, children between ages five and 17 years and adults from ages 18 to 65.
The findings shows that although children kindergarten-age or younger only have mild illness, they had viral loads between 10-fold and 100-fold greater amount in their upper respiratory tract.
'We found that children under five with Covid-19 have a higher viral load than older children and adults, which may suggest greater transmission, as we see with respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV,' said lead author Dr Taylor Heald-Sargent, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children's.
'Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread Covid-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility.'
Ms Sturgeon announced that a loosening previously hoped for from September 14 in Scotland - which up to now has been under tougher rules than England - would have to be put on hold for a further three weeks.
'Unfortunately, due to the rise in cases we have seen since then, we have concluded that these changes must be paused for a further three weeks,' she said.
Ms Sturgeon said that the decision 'means unfortunately spectators will not be able to return to sports stadia and other venues over the next three weeks' with a new indicative date given of October 5.
She went on to announce that people would only now be able to meet up in groups of six – whether inside or outside.
She said: 'We have concluded that it is necessary to tighten some existing restrictions, to help curb the spread of the virus especially between and within households.
'As of now, up to eight people from three households can meet indoors. Larger outdoor gatherings are also permitted.
'I can confirm that we intend to change this, so that a maximum of six people from two households will now be permitted to meet together.'
She added: 'To help reduce transmission – but also simplify the rules as much as possible – this new limit will apply both indoors, in houses, in pubs and restaurants, and also outdoors including in private gardens.'
However, crucially she added that any children under 12 who are part of two households meeting up would not count towards the limit of six people.
Local authority data reveals that 65 per cent (210 out of 320) of councils have a rate of coronavirus cases below 20 per 100,000, the level at which the Government considers quarantine measures for foreign countries. And an analysis of postcode data by The Telegraph shows 75 per cent - or 5,157 areas - have a rate below 20 per 100,000. Around 7,200 people are estimated to live in each postcode, which when multiplied gives 38 million.
The UK's coronavirus outbreak is mostly being driven by cases in hotspots including Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Birmingham and Leicester, with many area are in local lockdown measures or receiving extra Government support.
Nicola Sturgeon declared that children under 12 would be exempted from social distancing at the beginning of July.
The First Minister said she hoped the move would make life 'a little bit easier and a little bit more fun' over the summer holidays - amid evidence that children are at low risk.
Children aged between 12 and 17 are still meant to obey distancing rules, but they do not face the same restrictions on how many different groups of people they can meet during a day.
Hundreds of towns and villages all over the country have managed to keep their coronavirus cases low but will still be subject to the draconian new measures.
Rural areas in the South West, for example, have escaped the worst of the virus's impact for most of the outbreak but are still being subjected to the tough rules faced by the rest of the country.
Lesser-affected areas include places such as Northumberland and Bishop Auckland in the North, to Weymouth, Ashford and Winchester in the south.
All will be required to ensure people meet in groups no larger than six indoors and outdoors, and subject to fines ranging from £100 to £3,200 if they fail to comply, despite their low numbers of coronavirus cases.
A Conservative former Minister criticised the measures as a 'very broad brush' and said that something 'more concentrated' would have been better.
Boris Johnson's own SAGE experts raised serious doubts about his 'moonshot' plan for mass testing to save Christmas - warning that the claimed £100billion cost could be better deployed elsewhere and there could be too many false results.
The PM mooted the radical scheme at a Downing Street press conference last night as a way of returning the country to normality, with 10million people a day screened using rapid new kits.
However, ministers admitted this morning that the testing technology does not yet exist, with the government's own scientists saying there is no guarantee it will ever be developed.
A SAGE assessment from August 31 insisted 'careful consideration' should be given to whether pouring resources into the scheme was more effective than boosting funding to Test & Trace, or encouraging people with symptoms to self-isolate.
The elite group said the 'cheaper, faster tests' needed for mass testing would inevitably be less accurate, and the screening could only be a 'component' of efforts to tackle the virus.
Eminent statistician David Spiegelhalter said he was 'banging his head on the wall' at the idea, pointing out that even the best tests would wrongly label 1 per cent of people as positive, requiring millions to quarantine.
Dorset has recorded 37 cases in the past week, giving it a rate of just 8.7 per 100,000 according to official data. And Exeter, which is in Devon, has recorded 10 cases in the past week, giving it a rate of 7.7 per 100,000.
Christopher Snowdon, the Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs, said the Government had 'over-reacted' to a rise in cases by bringing in the draconian measures.
'Figures show that the (coronavirus) problem is still quite highly localised, despite what was said yesterday,' he told MailOnline. 'I look at the map where you can check outbreaks and, in my neck of the woods, there are huge stretches of land where there are less than two cases.
'It suggests to me that local lockdowns or local restrictions are still the best way forward and the broad brush approach is, at best, premature.
'I think the Government has maybe decided to bring in this 'Rule of Six' because it will have a smaller economic impact than closing pubs or schools, but there will be an economic impact. You can't have more than six people in a group in restaurants, for example.
'I know the hospitality industry is very concerned. (They) are still trying to balance the economy and risk to some extent, but they got the balance wrong.'
Bolton currently has the highest rate of coronavirus infections in England, with 131.1 per 100,000 after another 377 cases were recorded. This is a sharp rise from the rate of 72.0 recorded seven days ago.
Bradford has the second highest rate, at 78.4 with 423 new cases, and Birmingham the third highest, at 77.1 with 880 new cases.
Other areas of concern include Salford, at 70.7, Sunderland, at 69.1, Manchester, at 64.9, Leeds, at 61.7, and Leicester, at 56.7.
But hundreds of other towns and villages in the UK are recording case rates at less than 20 per 100,000.
Local lockdowns are already in place for Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, Oldham, Pendle, Leicester and Greencore in Northampton.
A further tightening of restrictions has been seen in the North of England, and previous lockdown measures for Luton have since been dropped.
No lockdown restrictions are in place in Birmingham, but the city has been put on the watchlist after infections there doubled in the last week. West Midlands mayor Andy Street said even tougher restrictions are 'looking likely' for residents after 712 new infections were recorded.
The tougher rules for the city could include households being banned from mixing in private homes or gardens, and people are only allowed to dine out with people they already live with.
The Prime Minister warned at a Downing Street press briefing yesterday that the new England-wide restrictions could be here for months - potentially scuppering families plans over the Christmas break.
And Matt Hancock told Sky News that the rules would be there for the 'foreseeable future' - but he sought to pour cold water on suggestions they could still be in place for the festive period, stating 'three months is a long time