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Coronavirus lockdown laws: What type of food can I buy and is driving allowed?

Coronavirus | Published:

There has been confusion over what can be enforced by police and what actually constitutes breaking the law.

Police speak to drivers at Tynemouth beach which has been closed as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

Police officers across the UK now have powers to arrest or fine people flouting coronavirus lockdown rules.

More than 100 fines have already been issued in four days – with some forces accused of being overzealous in their approach to policing the regulations.

The Government guidance generally urges the public to avoid unnecessary trips out of doors where possible in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But there has been confusion over what can be enforced by police and what actually constitutes breaking the law.

This has prompted concerns from human rights campaigners and claims the laws are open to interpretation.

– When did the laws come into force?

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 were introduced in England on Thursday at 1pm.

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Similar versions of the laws were enacted in Wales at 4pm and in Scotland at 7.15pm on the same day, as well as at 11pm on Saturday in Northern Ireland.

– Why have the rules been enacted?

The England regulations state they are made “in response to the serious and imminent threat to public health” posed by Covid-19.

– Can I leave my house?

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According to the legislation: “During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”

A reasonable excuse includes: getting food and medical supplies for yourself, members of the same household and vulnerable people, getting money, to exercise and for essential work.

You can also leave your house to: give blood, attend a funeral (in some cases), meet bail conditions, go to court and take part in legal proceedings, move house and to “avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm”.

But public gatherings of more than two people are banned apart from for members of the same household who are currently living together. There are some exceptions along similar lines as above.

Coronavirus
There is no law on how regularly you can exercise but it must be alone or with members of your household (Adam Davy/PA)

– How often can I go out?

The law does not specify – or limit – how many times per day someone can leave their house for any of these reasons.

The Government advice is to exercise once a day but the law does not say how many times a day this is allowed to happen.

– Can I go for a drive?

Police stopping motorists
The legislation does not address the use of cars or vehicles at all (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Government urged people to “stay local” when out exercising and only use open spaces near their homes where possible, keeping at least two metres apart from anyone they do not live with.

Some police forces said the public should not go out for a drive or use their car to travel to exercise.

But the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said there is nothing “definitive” in the legislation on this, although it urged the public to be “sensible”.

The legislation does not address the use of cars or vehicles at all and does not forbid members of the public from using their cars to “go for a drive” or travel to a location by car to exercise.

It states petrol stations, car repair and MOT services, taxi companies and car parks can all remain open, albeit with restrictions.

– Can I go shopping, and what can I buy?

People carry their shopping after visiting a home, garden and leisure store in Kent
The law does not specify what type of food, drink or other items are permissible (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The legislation says you can leave the house to obtain “basic necessities” like “food”.

The law does not define what constitutes “food” and does not specify what type of food, drink or other items are permissible when shopping.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “If a shop is allowed to remain open then it will of course sell whatever items it has in stock.”

The law says supermarkets, corner shops, off licences, hardware stores, pet shops and post offices can all remain open.

– What can the police do?

Officers can take action to enforce the requirements of the legislation if they “reasonably believe” someone is in contravention as long as the decision is “necessary and proportionate”.

They can order someone to go home, leave an area, have the power to disperse a group and remove someone using “reasonable force, if necessary”.

Officers can also take steps to make sure parents are stopping their children from breaking the rules.

Police can arrest someone refusing to comply and issue £60 fines – reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. The fine doubles to £120 for a second offence and would continue to rise each time to a maximum of £960.

Those who do not pay could be taken to court.

You could also be arrested for refusing to provide your name and address to avoid being given a fine.

The NPCC told forces to take a “common sense approach” to policing the rules and use enforcement action as a last resort while Downing Street said police officers should use “their own discretion” in enforcing the measures.

– What else do the rules say?

A pregnant woman holds her stomach
Pregnant people are classed as vulnerable (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The law defines a vulnerable person as someone who is aged 70 or older, anyone aged under 70 who has an underlying health condition and anyone who is pregnant.

Underlying health conditions include: chronic long-term respiratory diseases like asthma, kidney and heart disease, hepatitis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, a learning disability or cerebral palsy, HIV, Aids, cancer, and obesity.

– How long will the rules be in force?

The emergency laws must be reviewed at least once every 21 days, starting on April 15, and will remain in place until they are scrapped by the Government. Ultimately they can expire after six months if not renewed.

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