As England has gone back into lockdown for a third time since March, Boris Johnson has told people that “you may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law” in an attempt to curb rising coronavirus cases.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has also been clear that the new rules mean the police will question people thought to be breaking them.
On Thursday, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, about police questioning people sitting on park benches: “Police have done that, let’s be very clear about this.
“Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, during the last lockdown, the police have been asking individuals why are they out and about and should they be out and about, when the message right now is stay at home.”
At the beginning of the first lockdown in March last year, police were criticised for being overzealous in their enforcing of Covid restrictions.
Speaking on Sky News’ Kay Burley @ Breakfast Show, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there had been “individual examples” where police acted perhaps a bit further than they should have gone”.
But what powers do police actually have in lockdown 3.0? And how likely are they to use them? This is what you need to know.
What are the rules now, and are they the law?
Lockdown rules are the law, not just guidance. This includes a stay-at-home order, which requires people to stay in their homes except for a small number of reasons.
- To shop for essentials
- To go to work if working from home is not possible
- To exercise
- To seek medical attention
- To escape domestic abuse
- For education or to provide childcare
- To provide care for disabled or vulnerable people
- To provide emergency assistance
- To attend communal worship (if social distancing is observed)
- To attend a wedding or funeral
You are not permitted to meet anyone from outside your household indoors (unless they are your support bubble) but you may meet one person from outside your household outdoors for exercise in your local area. This does not permit socialising.
How do police enforce the new rules?
Since the first lockdown in March, police have been using a system called “The Four Es”, which is designed to help engage with the public and ensure fines are a last resort.
The four Es are:
- Engage with the public and ask them why they appear to be breaking Covid rules.
- Explain the law, making the risks to the NHS and the health of others clear.
- Encourage them to change their behaviour.
- Enforce the law by issuing a penalty notice as a last resort
How much can I be fined for breaking Covid rules?
If you break the rules, a police officer could give you a fixed penalty notice (like a parking ticket but for coronavirus rule-breaking). Police in England and Wales have issued 25,000 of these since March last year.
Fines start at £200 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (they are lower in Scotland) and, for large parties, they can go up to £10,000.
In an extreme case, police could even prosecute you and you could end up in court. This may result in an even bigger fine.
What are the rules around exercising?
Unlike in the first lockdown in March, when Michael Gove suggested people should limit their exercise to an hour of walking or 30min of running or cycling, there has been no time limit imposed for daily exercise this year.
However, government guidelines state that outdoor exercise should be taken just once per day and that you should not travel outside your local area.
Two women were fined £200 each after separately driving five miles to meet to go for a walk at Foremark Reservoir. Derbyshire Police told BBC News that driving somewhere for exercise was “not in the spirit” of lockdown.
You are allowed to meet one person outside your household for exercise, as long as you maintain social distancing.
Can I be fined for not wearing a mask?
Yes, you could get a fixed penalty notice for not wearing a mask in shops or on public transport if you don’t have an exemption.
On Friday, it was reported that fewer than 1,000 fines had been issued for non-mask wearing in England and Wales.
Can police check if I’m not isolating when I’ve been asked to?
If you’ve just come back from a country on the quarantine list, or NHS Test and Trace has asked you to self-isolate, you must stay at home for 10 days.
If police receive a tip-off that you’ve not been sticking to your isolation, they can check the NHS Test and Trace database to investigate.
How likely am I to get a fine if I break the rules?
Over Christmas, there were more than 800 fines dished out for what Priti Patel called “egregious” rule-breaking.
The government is encouraging police to enforce the rules and the Home Office has given them an extra £30m to pay for Covid patrols in England and Wales.
For full details of the national lockdown rules, you can view the official government guidance here.
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