Children in England should not be forced to adhere to the “rule of six” because limiting contacts outside school threatens to damage their mental development and well-being, experts have warned.

It comes after the Government announced strict limits of no more than six people in social gatherings, including children, from Monday. That has caused alarm among psychologists, who fear children will suffer from being deprived of their wider circle of friends. 

Similar restrictions in Wales and Scotland do not include children under the ages of 11 and 12 respectively.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a professor of psychology at the University of Cambridge, who specialises in adolescent brain development, said: “I think children should be exempt from the ‘rule of six’ in England, as is the case in Scotland and Wales. 

“Playing with other children is a developmentally crucial activity, and shouldn’t be made illegal.”

Professor Francis Philip McGlone, the head of the somatosensory and affective neuroscience group at Liverpool John Moores University, said the lack of physical touch could also damage the sense of security that young children develop with friends.

He wrote on Twitter: “Does nobody in [Boris] Johnson’s bumbling mismanagement factor in the cost of social isolation and the neurobiological need for affective touch – particularly for children through play?”

But Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, insisted the “rule of six” would not be changed to exempt children under 12, saying the restrictions in England were “absolutely right”.

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “As ever, the important thing is balance – eating out, seeing friends, that is fine provided we do so in a way that is socially responsible. That’s what the rule of six is about.”

He said the rule (seen being announced by Boris Johnson in the video below) was “well-understood” and had the public’s support.

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