'Stick to the rules' warning as lockdown is eased in Black Country and Staffordshire

Health bosses from across the region have urged people to stick to the Covid rules as lockdown is eased from today.

People are again allowed to relax outdoors and meet people from different households
People are again allowed to relax outdoors and meet people from different households

Visitors to parks and open spaces in the Black Country and Staffordshire are being urged to not meet in large groups to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The plea comes as the next step in the easing of Government restrictions comes into force.

Until today, people were only allowed to leave their home with a "reasonable excuse", such as for work, shopping or exercise, and household mixing was banned.

However groups of up to six people or bigger groups from two households are now able to meet again outdoors, including in private gardens and parks, which are expected to be busy as the weather warms.

Outdoor sport facilities are also allowed to open and formally organised outdoor sports can be played.

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Sandwell Council said the authority and West Midlands Police would be patrolling open spaces, with rulebreakers facing an initial fine of £200 up to a maximum of £6,400 for repeat offenders.

Alan Caddick, Sandwell Council’s director of housing and communities, said: "During the pandemic, parks and green spaces have been an increasingly popular destination for people to visit.

"We have seen an even greater number of visitors attending Sandwell Valley and Dartmouth Park in West Bromwich, particularly at weekends. The number of people visiting the sites and people not adhering to the rules in respect to social distancing is concerning.

"With lockdown restrictions easing, school holidays approaching and hopefully some good spring weather coming up, we know people will want to exercise and spend time in our parks and enjoy some fresh air.

"We would just ask everyone: please, stick to the latest government rules, keep social distancing and don't meet in large groups to help prevent the spread of infection. And if it looks really busy, please consider coming back another time or choosing another of our many green spaces."

Dr Lisa McNally, Sandwell's director of public health, said "worrying surges" are being seen in parts of the borough, despite it having one of the fastest falling infection rates in the country.

"Even if you have received the vaccine, this doesn't mean you can't catch and pass on Covid-19. Please keep following the rules and staying safe," she added.

Superintendent Phil Asquith, from Sandwell Police, said: "Where groups gather in higher numbers than permitted, officers will actively engage with them and where appropriate will take enforcement action."

Karen Wright, director of public health at Dudley Council, encouraged anyone who leaves home for work to be tested.

She said: "As Easter approaches and we see a slight relaxation of some of the rules, some people may be tempted to bend the rules, but we must all continue to follow the guidance to protect our communities and work our way out of lockdown safely.

"We can all play our part by keeping our distance, wearing face coverings and practising good hand hygiene. Anyone who leaves home for work as well as those with children in school should be using lateral flow tests wherever possible as this will help to detect and contain asymptomatic cases."

Dr Richard Harling, Staffordshire County Council’s director of health and care, said "we cannot afford to let our guard down".

He added: “The vaccination programme has been a tremendous success, but it will be months before everyone is vaccinated and even longer before the full benefits are known.

“That’s why we must continue to stick to the rules, continue to be tested twice a week and get vaccinated when we become eligible.

“A surge in cases will risk delays on the release of restrictions, or even worse, a return to full lockdown.”

Stephen Gunther, director of public health Walsall, said: “As the borough moves through each of the phases in the roadmap outlined by national government, we must all remember that Covid-19 remains a part of our lives.

"We are going to have to keep living our lives differently to keep ourselves and others safe. It is crucial that we carry on with ‘hands, face, space’ guidance and comply with the Covid-secure measures that remain in place: meet outdoors when we can and keep letting fresh air in indoors. Get tested when needed. Get vaccinated when offered and continue to play our part.”

John Denley, Wolverhampton's director of public health, called for people to play their part to ensure this is the last lockdown.

He said: "We've done incredibly well to get this far - our next challenge is to make sure that the changes that have been made today and which are planned in the coming weeks don't cause a spike in infections. That would jeopardise the progress we have made and affect our chances of being able to leave lockdown safely.

"So, let's make this the last lockdown we have. Please play your part by remaining vigilant and carrying on doing everything you can to stop the spread of Covid-19; if you go out, practice Hands, Face, Space, and if you are meeting up with anyone who is not in your household please ensure you continue to practice social distancing."

Superintendent Tom Chisholm, Head of Neighbourhood Policing at Staffordshire Police, said officers "will not hesitate" to carry out action where there are blatant breaches of the rules.

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