Covid-19: Rule-breakers increasingly likely to be fined – Cressida Dick

Covid-19: Rule-breakers increasingly likely to be fined – Cressida Dick

It is “preposterous” that anyone could be unaware of the need to follow the coronavirus lockdown rules, the UK’s most senior police officer has said.

Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said Covid rule-breakers were now “increasingly likely” to be fined by officers.

Writing in the Times, she said people were still holding house parties, raves and gambling gatherings in basements.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said tighter measures cannot be ruled out.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Mr Hancock pleaded for people to follow the current rules, saying: “It is your actions now that can make a difference.”

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said there was currently no expectation that a more extensive clampdown of rules was on its way from Westminster.

The Scottish government’s cabinet is due to meet on Tuesday to discuss restrictions.

Latest figures on Monday showed a further 529 people had died within 28 days of a positive test in the UK, while another 46,169 cases were reported.

There are also more than 32,000 people in hospital with coronavirus, data shows.

In her warning in the Times, Dame Cressida said officers were still finding people breaking the rules, despite clear laws that ban social gatherings.

“Most people are doing the right thing to keep each other safe, but sadly a small minority of people continue to flagrantly ignore the rules, for example by holding house parties, meeting in basements to gamble or breaking into railway arches for unlicensed raves,” she said.

“It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines.”

Dame Cressida said officers will now be moving “much more quickly to enforcement action”.

Police chiefs have been under increasing pressure to enforce the lockdown laws – with a number of news reports about breaches of Covid rules in recent days.

In England and Wales, police have issued 8,000 penalties since November.

Officers have been stopping people and asking them where they have travelled from, while elsewhere people have been discovered using pubs and gyms.

Two women were fined £200 each by Derbyshire Police when they drove five miles for a walk together – but the force has since withdrawn the penalties.

After that incident gained widespread media attention, the National Police Chiefs’ Council issued fresh guidance to officers.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the way police have handled breaches, saying there was a need for “strong enforcement”.

But behavioural scientist Professor Stephen Reicher said evidence suggested 80-90% of people were by and large obeying the rules – except when it came to self-isolation where compliance was lower.

“The problem isn’t people breaking the rules,” said Mr Reicher, who sits on a committee of behavioural scientists that advises the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

“In many cases it’s either the rules aren’t clear enough, or the rules are too soft, or else people don’t have the support to do what they’re asked to do.”

Speaking on BBC Newsnight’s programme, he said one reason the virus was still spreading was because many people were still going to work. “We are defining all sorts of jobs as essential that aren’t,” he said.

Conservative former health minister Steve Brine led calls for an end to non-essential takeaway sales, including coffee.

“Stop the coffee,” he told Newsnight. “There are so many things that we are doing, which are allowed in the rules… but I just don’t think they are wise right now.”

Speaking at Downing Street, Mr Hancock warned that the UK was at the “worst point” of the pandemic, adding: “I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don’t rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.

“Stay at home, and please reduce all social contact that is not absolutely strictly necessary. That’s what is needed: act like you have the virus.”

The government also published its plan to vaccinate tens of millions of people by the spring. So far 2.3 million people in the UK have had a first Covid vaccine shot.

Police chief constables have also been lobbying ministers to prioritise frontline officers to get vaccinated, as the rate of officers self-isolating has risen.

In her article, Dame Cressida said she was “delighted to hear” that this proposal was being “actively discussed”.

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