Covid UK: Met Police chief Cressida Dick says it is ‘preposterous’ people could not be aware of laws

Britain’s most senior police officer said it is ‘preposterous’ that people could be unaware of the need to follow the third national lockdown and warned that rule-breakers will be fined.

Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick said people are still holding house parties, meeting in basements to gamble, and attending unlicensed raves despite rising numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths.

She warned that anyone caught breaking the rules or failing to comply would result in officers ‘moving much more quickly to enforcement action’.

It comes amid increasing calls for tougher shutdown restrictions as case rates rise, with No10 even considering imposing Chinese-style curfews, outdoor mask mandates and three metre social distancing. 

Writing in the Times today, Dame Cressida 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. 

‘We will still be engaging, explaining and encouraging but those who break the rules or refuse to comply where they should without good reason will find officers moving much more quickly to enforcement action.’   

The Met Police chief also called on the Government to ensure that police officers are prioritised for the Covid jab as the vaccine is rolled out.  

Though Scotland Yard has not abandoned the ‘4Es’ approach to Covid of engaging, explaining and encouraging the public to keep to the rules, officers will be quicker to fine rule-breakers, Dame Cressida said.

Officers are stopping people on the street and asking them where they are going and why they have left their home. 

But police forces across the country have been accused of officiousness, with Derbyshire Constabulary forced to cancelling £200 fines handed to two women who drove several miles to go on a country walk.  

In other coronavirus news: 

  • Boris Johnson was accused of hypocrisy after reports that he went cycling at the Olympic Park in east London on Sunday – seven miles from his home – after imposing sweeping Covid restrictions on others;
  • Two women who received £200 fixed penalty notices after travelling to a reservoir for a walk around five miles from their homes have had their fines rescinded, Derbyshire Police said;
  • Tory lockdown sceptics gave the Prime Minister a March 8 target to start easing coronavirus curbs;
  • Downing Street was unable to say whether sitting on a park bench is against the lockdown rules;
  • The biggest increases in Covid-19 case rates are now happening outside the south and east of England. The Liverpool City Region and parts of the West Midlands have seen particularly sharp rises;
  • Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi suggested that police officers, teachers and other critical workers will be in the ‘highest category of phase two’ of the vaccine rollout;
  • Nicola Sturgeon said the ‘over-riding message’ was Scotland was now in the ‘most perilous and serious position since the start of the pandemic’. 
Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick said it is 'preposterous' people could be unaware of the need to follow the third national lockdown and warned that rule-breakers will be fined

Met Police chief Dame Cressida Dick said it is ‘preposterous’ people could be unaware of the need to follow the third national lockdown and warned that rule-breakers will be fined

Police arrest an anti-lockdown protester on the seafront on January 9, 2021 in Bournemouth

Police arrest an anti-lockdown protester on the seafront on January 9, 2021 in Bournemouth

Police detain several anti lockdown protestors in Brockwell Park in Brixton on January 9, 2021

Police detain several anti lockdown protestors in Brockwell Park in Brixton on January 9, 2021

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, pictured, both 27, who were each fined £200 by police for driving 10 minutess for a walk say they've had their fines cancelled following a backlash

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, pictured, both 27, who were each fined £200 by police for driving 10 minutess for a walk say they’ve had their fines cancelled following a backlash

Britain has recorded a further 529 Covid deaths - marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on this day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 died

Britain has recorded a further 529 Covid deaths – marking a 30 per cent rise on the 407 reported on this day last week. It is also the deadliest Monday since April 20 when 570 died

Does lockdown really need to get tougher? Covid cases may have FINALLY started to level off because of third blanket shutdown 

Coronavirus cases in Britain could be starting to level off because of the national lockdown, official data suggests as warnings grow that rules may have to get tougher.

The Department of Health announced another 46,169 positive coronavirus tests, the lowest figure since December 28.

The average number of cases, counted by the date on which the swab was taken, has now fallen for two days in a row, to 57,851 from a peak of 59,660 on Saturday.

Government officials warned that lockdown rules may have to get stricter if people don’t follow them, amid fears that too many are ‘flexing’ the restrictions.

But there are signs lockdown is beginning to bring down the rate of infection.

Tier 4, however, did not appear to have the desired effect in London, the South East and East of England, where cases continued to rise in most areas despite the tough crackdown for two weeks over Christmas.

Only 11 out of 315 boroughs in England saw their infection rates come down in the first week of this year, up to January 5, Public Health England data shows – just 3.5 per cent.

An even stricter national lockdown, with everyone urged to work from home unless they can’t, and schools across the country closed to most students, has taken the local restrictions’ place and could be enforced for another six weeks or more.    

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Yesterday, Mr Johnson warned that tougher lockdown measures may be needed as he stressed ‘now is the moment for maximum vigilance’.

During a visit to a vaccine centre in Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol, the PM said: ‘We’re going to keep the rules under constant review. Where we have to tighten them, we will.

‘We have rules in place already which, if they are properly followed, we believe can make a huge, huge difference.

‘It’s now that people need to focus… when they’re out shopping, whether they’re buying cups of coffee in the park or whatever it happens to be, they need to think about spreading the disease.’

Mr Johnson said that ‘more important than us just pushing out new rules’, people should follow existing guidance.

‘Of course, if we feel that things are not being properly observed then we may have to do more,’ he added.

The PM has come under pressure to increase the social distancing gap to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Leading members of the Sage scientific advisory panel want the measure raised from ‘one metre plus’ to ‘two metres plus’.

In practice this would change the limit to three metres – nearly 10ft. The drastic proposal came as a furious Matt Hancock denounced individuals who flout social distancing rules.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference the Health Secretary said that he would ‘not rule out further action if needed.’

He was backed by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who sits on Sage and said it was time to ‘double down’ on Covid curbs – including outdoor contact.

Asked if a three-metre rule would be imposed in England, a Downing Street spokesman said last night: ‘There are no current plans to change social distancing rules. However, everything is kept under review.’

The Mail has been told that several members of Sage say the lockdown needs to be even tougher than the first one in March last year.

The idea of a Chinese-style ban on residents leaving their homes was raised at one meeting.

Ministers are furious that some people have been using their right to daily exercise simply as an excuse to meet friends for a coffee in the park.

One source said: ‘If it means limiting people to a single one-hour walk on their own once a week that is what we must do. We cannot let a few selfish idiots put the whole country in danger.’

It is feared that the failure to observe the restrictions is fuelling the number of deaths and risks hospitals becoming overwhelmed.

Increasing the social distancing rule to three metres is seen as one way of stopping the spread of the new variant of the virus, which can be passed on more easily.  

Opponents of the move say it would have little impact, cause more confusion and be a logistical nightmare.

Two-metre signs have been painted on pavements across the nation, with similar notices found in tens of thousands of shops, factories, offices and public places.

Changing them all would add to the soaring cost of fighting the pandemic.

Supporters claim the benefit in saving lives and protecting the NHS means the move is worth it. They argue it is a response to the new variant which is thought to be up to be 70 per cent more transmissible. 

If it goes ahead it would be the Government’s third policy on social distancing.

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two.

But it was reduced to ‘one metre plus’ in July after the first lockdown – mainly to make it easier for restaurants and cafes to reopen.

A ‘two metre plus’ rule would in practice mean staying three metres apart – nearly 10ft – unless steps were taken to limit the danger of transmission, such as screens.

Three police officers wearing face masks question a man sitting on a bench in St James's Park

Three police officers wearing face masks question a man sitting on a bench in St James’s Park

Benches are taped off in Ely, Cambridgeshire during England's third national lockdown

Benches are taped off in Ely, Cambridgeshire during England’s third national lockdown

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

The distance was set at two metres in March after experts said coronavirus was up to ten times more transmissible at one metre than at two. Now experts want the public to maintain the distance on public transport, in supermarket lines and while out and about

Social distancing gaps vary around the world.

In China, Hong Kong and Singapore, which were successful in controlling the pandemic, the gap was one metre.

However, they imposed other, far stricter, rules including curfews. Spain and Canada followed the two-metre rule.

The three other home nations have different versions of the two-metre rule.

A ‘two metre plus’ rule would in practice mean staying three metres apart – nearly 10ft – unless steps were taken to limit the danger of transmission, such as screens.

In Scotland people are advised to keep two metres apart and in Wales they are told to stay two metres apart unless it is not practical, with young children exempt.

The gap in Northern Ireland came down to one metre but is two again.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Risk declines the further you are away from someone.

‘So three metres will reduce risk somewhat compared to two metres – but it is difficult to say how much and whether that would make a big difference. I suspect the main issue is people not sticking to the two-metre rule.’

Mr Hancock warned against trying to ‘push the boundaries’ on exercise, adding: ‘If too many people break this rule we are going to have a look at it. Don’t say you are exercising if really you are just socialising.’

He said the two-metre rule had to be obeyed, not seen ‘as a limit to be challenged’. 

Obey the rules or they’ll get tougher: PM’s warning as Whitty says we’re at the worst point of the pandemic

Lockdown restrictions will be tightened again if the public flout the current rules, Boris Johnson warned yesterday.

The Prime Minister said ‘complacency’ among the public could plunge the country into a deeper crisis at what was already a ‘very perilous moment’.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night reinforced his message, saying so-called support bubbles were the only lockdown exemption guaranteed to stay.

The warnings came amid mounting Government concern that the third lockdown may fail to bring the latest spike in coronavirus infections under control.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus. 

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty said Britain was ‘now at the worst point of this epidemic’ and urged people to stop seeing friends and family, even in the limited circumstances still allowed, saying every ‘unnecessary’ contact risked spreading the virus.

No mask, then you can’t shop at Morrisons

Morrisons will ban customers who refuse to wear face coverings from its shops amid rising coronavirus infections.

Shoppers who refuse to wear masks offered by staff will not be allowed in unless they are medically exempt. Chief executive David Potts said: ‘Our store colleagues are working hard to feed you and your family, please be kind.’

The policy threatens to trigger confrontations at the doors amid concerns about a rise in abuse and attacks on staff who are trying to impose social distancing rules.

Sainsbury’s is also introducing rules which require customers to shop alone and wear face masks. Security guards will challenge those who are not wearing a mask or who are shopping in groups.

It came as industry bosses angrily rejected claims from ministers that supermarkets are to blame for the spread of the virus.

One retail source said the Government ‘would be wise to investigate their own decisions around reducing social distancing rules, rather trying to lay the blame on supermarkets.’

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He added: ‘The key thing to understand is that when you meet people from another household under any circumstances – and they’re very often your friends, your family – but those are the kind of situations where the virus is passed on.’

He added: ‘It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t care whether they’re your friends. If you meet someone from another household, the virus has an opportunity to be transmitted.’

Ministers are considering a number of further restrictions, including closing the exemption that allows two people from different households to exercise together outdoors.

Government sources yesterday said Mr Johnson was ‘reluctant’ to scrap the exemption, which provides one of the few remaining lifelines for the lonely.

But there are fears it is muddying the ‘stay at home’ message, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman yesterday struggling to clarify whether two friends can take drinks with them on a walk.

Mr Hancock said the exemption was under review as it was being abused. ‘We have been seeing large groups… and you should be two metres apart from the other person. If there are too many people breaking this rule then we are going to have to look at it.

‘But, I don’t want to do that because for many people, being able to go for a walk with a friend… is their only social contact.’

Pre-school nurseries and places of worship could also face restrictions if cases continue to rise – but Mr Hancock said support bubbles were sacrosanct.

The arrangement allows those living alone or with babies to link up with one other household for support.

The Prime Minister and his fiancee Carrie Symonds are among those who have taken advantage of the system, forming a support bubble with Miss Symonds’s mother following the birth of their son Wilfred in April.

Ministers hope the blunt messaging on the NHS crisis and tougher rule enforcement will persuade people to comply with the letter and spirit of the lockdown.

But Labour yesterday called for the rules to be tightened, including the closure of nurseries.

Mr Hancock last night suggested a major relaxation of the rules was unlikely until all over-60s have been vaccinated – which the new plan suggests won’t be until at least April.

He said it was only at this point that ministers could be absolutely sure that hospital admissions from the virus would start to fall.

But the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, who oppose lockdown, last night said it should be lifted as soon as the 13million most vulnerable are vaccinated – which the Prime Minister pledged to achieve by February 15.  

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