Police look set to ramp up enforcement of coronavirus lockdown rules despite confusion over key parts of the measures.
Crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said officers would be adopting a new “high-profile” approach to enforcing the rules that could include stopping members of the public to ask why they are not at home.
Britain’s most senior police officer, Dame Cressida Dick, also warned that officers in London will move swiftly to fine people who blatantly ignore the regulations.
Their comments came amid confusion over the distance that members of the public are allowed to travel to exercise, with the Prime Minister sparking debate after going for a bike ride seven miles from Downing Street.
Leaders of police groups called on the government to clarify the “incredibly vague” rules, which saw two women incorrectly fined for driving five miles from their Derbyshire homes to meet for a walk.
This came as:
– The latest health service figures showed 2,347,461 people in Great Britain have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine
– The Government faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food
– Tesco, Asda and Waitrose became the latest supermarkets to take a tougher stance on customers who refuse to wear a face covering without a medical exemption
– Data from the Office of National Statistics showed that more than 40,000 extra deaths have taken place in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic
– NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told MPs the peak demand on the health service may not be reached until early to mid-February
Dame Cressida said on Tuesday that officers in London had issued more than 300 notices in the space of 24 hours for “flagrant” violations of the regulations.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will move more quickly to enforcement, and particularly where somebody is breaking the law, breaking the regulations, and if it is absolutely clear that they must have known, or do know that they are, then we will move very swiftly to enforcement and fining people.”
Her warning came as Boris Johnson said the pandemic was at a “pivotal stage” and that the country “cannot take our foot off the pedal”.
Mr Malthouse said the Government was closely monitoring the numbers of Covid-19 cases before deciding whether tougher measures were needed for England.
Amid concern that activity levels were higher than during the first lockdown in April, he told Times Radio: “It’s certainly the case that the police are going to be very high profile.
“It’s certainly part of police’s job to stop people and enquire as to the reasons why they’re outside their house.
“It is a very significant change and it’s a challenge for British policing that relies on a model of consent.”
As a string of supermarkets pledged to get tougher with customers who refuse to wear face coverings, Dame Cressida said her officers would be prepared to assist shop staff if customers became “obstructive and aggressive” when told they must wear a face covering.
Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have all outlined a stricter approach to masks in their stores.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ministers will consider whether key workers such as police, teachers and essential shop staff should be prioritised once the most vulnerable have received the coronavirus vaccine.
Police leaders are pushing for frontline officers to get the vaccine after the highest priority groups have received their jabs.
Dame Cressida wrote in the Times that officers are “sometimes inevitably in close contact” with members of the public, while John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said rank and file officers urgently need protection.