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Police demand ministers make English Covid laws clearer

Police demand ministers make English Covid laws clearer amid calls for firm limits on exercise like Scotland and Northern Ireland – but Priti Patel insists they are ‘simple’

  • Government advice urges people to stay ‘local’ but does not specify a distance, sparking calls for clarity 
  • Hopes of immediate clarification for England appeared to be scotched this evening by a senior police officer
  • Chairman of the National Police Chiefs Council Martin Hewitt rejected demands for clear boundaries  
  • His remarks fly in the face of demands from colleagues who branded the existing guidance ‘incredibly vague’  

Police leaders demanded more clarity on exercise regulations last night after Priti Patel insisted the rules were ‘simple and clear’ – despite widespread public confusion.

A furious row erupted after the Home Secretary urged people to rely on their judgment and be ‘conscientious’ when deciding whether their daily exercise was within coronavirus regulations.

She confirmed police had issued 45,000 Covid-related fines since March, including 13,000 in the past three weeks as police dramatically ramped up enforcement.

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said it would be ‘challenging’ to draw up rules covering every eventuality.

He resisted setting a maximum distance which members of the public could travel for exercise from their homes.

It means the guidelines in England will remain less rigid than those in Northern Ireland, where people must remain within ten miles of home, and in Scotland, where those exercising must not venture more than five miles from their local authority boundary.

In response, Police Federation chairman John Apter told the Daily Mail: ‘What we really need is more clarity on the legislation and the guidance, not just for the police but for the public as well.

‘Without that we will continue to be accused of targeting so-called minor infractions of the rules and more confidence will be lost as a result. Some of the rules are still cloudy, such as what exactly constitutes local when it comes to travelling somewhere for exercise. ‘What is local for one person will not be local for another.’

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick also called for extra guidance, telling the BBC’s Today programme: ‘Anything that brings greater clarity for officers and the public in general will be a good thing.’

But Miss Patel said: ‘The rules are actually very simple and clear. We are meant to stay at home and only leave home for a very, very limited number of reasons.’ She added that outdoor exercise should happen in a ‘very restricted and limited way, staying local’. 

The call for clarity came as: 

  • Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey warned furlough is masking unemployment and the true rate could be 6.5 per cent not 4.9 per cent;
  • The government is facing more pressure to make the vaccination programme 24-hours and start giving more frontline workers jabs;
  • Matt Hancock has denied there is a national oxygen shortage as the strain on the NHS increases but admitted patients might have to be moved to where there are supplies; 
  • One in every three deaths in England and Wales was linked to coronavirus in the final days of 2020, official figures revealed today as a separate analysis claimed the virus was behind the sharpest rise in fatalities since 1940;
  • Downing Street has admitted pictures of the random contents in some free school meal food parcels are ‘completely unacceptable’ after the issue was highlighted by Marcus Rashford;  
  • Seven vaccination hubs have come into use, including London’s ExCeL and Birmingham’s Millennium Point;
  • Derbyshire Police has cancelled £200 fines for two women penalised for driving five miles to go for a walk;
  • Nearly a quarter of care home residents have received their first shot of Covid vaccine, with nearly 2.7million doses now administered across the UK;
  • Hospitals started rationing oxygen as it emerged that one in four coronavirus patients is under 55.

A furious row erupted after the Home Secretary urged people to rely on their judgment and be ‘conscientious’ when deciding whether their daily exercise was within coronavirus regulations.  National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said it would be ‘challenging’ to draw up rules covering every eventuality 

Boris Johnson (pictured in 2016), who has himself come under fire for cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from his Downing Street flat, has been urged to follow the devolved administrations and set clear boundaries 

Covid Marshals talk to a cyclist who was sat down on the esplanade at Bournemouth Beach on Sunday

Lockdown rules: So what ARE we allowed to do then? 

Can I go for a walk with a friend?

LEGAL: Meeting one person from outside your household is permitted in England if you leave home on your own, and observe social distancing. You should leave home only once a day.

NOT LEGAL: Two or more people from your household cannot meet anyone from another household for exercise. It has to be one-to-one. There are only very limited exceptions, such as meeting someone who is in a support bubble with you because they live alone.

GREY AREA: Guidelines say you should ‘stay local’, and adds that this means ‘the village, town, or part of the city where you live’. The Government advises that you should leave home on foot rather than go by car or public transport to meet a friend.

Can I buy a coffee with a friend while I’m out?

LEGAL: Buying a takeaway coffee is legal, providing you observe the one-to-one rule. ‘If you’re getting coffee on your way to do exercise, or as part of your acquiring food, or one of those reasons you’re allowed to be out of the house, then that is legitimate,’ 

Home Office minister Kit Malthouse told Good Morning Britain yesterday. Last week Derbyshire Police fined two women £200 each for meeting up five miles from their homes, and said their takeaway drinks were an illegal ‘picnic’ – but the force has since cancelled the penalties and apologised.

NOT LEGAL: Meeting more than one person for a coffee. Sitting down with a coffee with a friend on a park bench for an extended period of time.

GREY AREA: The Government has not defined when a short sit-down to catch one’s breath during exercise becomes illegal. It is encouraging people to use their judgment and act responsibly, rather than look for loopholes in the lockdown rules.

Can I go for a bike ride?

LEGAL: A bike ride of 50 to 70 miles would be fine in most cases, Mr Malthouse said.

NOT LEGAL: Presumably, travelling further than 70 miles would be illegal.

GREY AREA: The nature of cycling means large distances can be covered. The parameters set out by the minister are yet to be tested.

Can I drive somewhere to exercise?

LEGAL: Yes, if absolutely necessary. The England guidelines say you should stay local, but they do not ban driving to exercise alone or as a household. Different rules apply in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

NOT LEGAL: Driving a long distance.

GREY AREA: A medium distance would probably not be in the spirit of the rules, especially as ministers have been clear you should be exercising on foot from home wherever possible. The exact point at which a short local drive becomes a breach of the rules is unclear.

Asked if more detailed rules were on the cards, a Home Office source said: ‘What we want to avoid is more bureaucracy. People should be taking personal responsibility for their decisions.

‘We don’t think it would be helpful to set a specific distance from home, because police officers would have to start asking people where they’ve come from and then work out how far they’ve travelled.

‘It’s more sensible to say something more general, such as if you are exercising you should leave from your front door under your own steam and come back to your front door.’

The NPCC said last Friday that 32,329 fixed-penalty notices were issued by forces in England and Wales between March 27 and December 21. Miss Patel said the figure had risen to just under 45,000, meaning about 13,000 have been handed out in three weeks.

Government advice urges people to stay ‘local’ but does not specify a distance in law, which has resulted in officers making their own interpretations and incorrectly fining walkers driving just five miles from home.  

Boris Johnson, who has himself come under fire for cycling in the Olympic Park seven miles from his Downing Street flat, has been urged to follow the devolved administrations and set clear boundaries.  

Rejecting calls to set a distance on travel for exercise, Mr Hewitt said: ‘I think you have to ask yourself two questions. If there is an exemption, the first question is ‘is me going out and doing this today essential?’

‘If the answer to that question is ‘yes’, then you have to ask yourself how can I conduct this exercise in the safest way possible?

‘I understand why the issue of ‘local’ has become quite totemic, but I think it is the wrong question to ask.’

The lack of concrete rules has left forces across England grappling with lockdown enforcement at a time when ministers are concerned with fraying compliance with the rules.

Chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation Brian Booth said: ‘The guidance is that you should be local in your own community near where you live but people are far exceeding that.

‘Officers have no power in law to deal with it, so it is a bit of a nonsense really. The guidance is people’s moral judgement, should they be doing it, but with regard to policing it – it’s impossible.’

Asked whether the Government should bring in a legal definition of what constitutes ‘local’, Mr Booth said: ‘You can’t just leave it woolly like you’ve done and expect officers to work miracles. It’s just setting the officer up for a fall.’

His withering assessment of the current rules were echoed by Chairman of Leicestershire Police Federation Adam Commons, who said that officers across the 43 forces in England and Wales are trying to interpret something ‘incredibly vague’.  

Yet Home Secretary Priti Patel tonight warned that police would be enforcing the law and handing out fines, as it was revealed almost 45,000 penalties have been issued during the pandemic.

She told tonight’s press briefing: ‘When it comes to exercising, I do say stay local – staying local is absolutely crucial.’

The senior Tory also refused to criticise her leader, Mr Johnson, for travelling across London from Westminster for a bike ride in Stratford.

Adding it was important to exercise away from other people, she said this ‘is clearly what the Prime Minister did when he was taking his daily exercise’.   

It followed a similar tone from the No10 press secretary Allegra Stratton, who was earlier asked if Mr Johnson regretted his Sunday cycle ride seven miles from Downing Street.

She said:  ‘There is however nothing special about the Prime Minister going on a bike ride and nor should there be’. 

She added: ‘He will be doing bike rides again – you all know how much he loves his bike.’ 

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse also defended Mr Johnson’s bike ride but accused the public of ‘searching for the loopholes in the law’ by flouting the third national lockdown – comparing it to pubs serving scotch eggs to stay open last year – and insisted that it is the police’s job to scrutinise where people are going and who they are meeting outdoors.  

He said: ‘I understand that this is a sort of scotch egg moment where people are searching for the loopholes and the problems in the law. Unfortunately we can’t legislate for every single dynamic of human existence. If you can get there under your own steam and you are not interacting with somebody … then that seems perfectly reasonable to me’.

Dame Cressida made a veiled swipe at the PM’s Olympic Park bike ride Dame Cressida Dick said: ‘For me, a reasonable interpretation of that is that if you can go for your exercise from your front door and come back to your front door’, adding: ‘The public are looking to all of us as role models’. But she said the PM’s trip was not unlawful.

No 10 is yet to confirm if Mr Johnson cycled to the Olympic Park himself or was conveyed to east London by car as some Tory MPs complained that too much power is being handed to police. 

Dame Cressida has also asked the Government to enshrine the definition of ‘local’ in law to make it easier to police as it emerged that officers in Devon and Cornwall are even using automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology to make sure only essential journeys are being made during lockdown – and hunt down people travelling to second homes.

Hampshire Police are also using drones to watch people visiting the waterfront at Southsea to ensure they are social distancing and not meeting in groups.   

Ministers say someone can stop on a park bench – but only for a short while before moving on. Police pictured in St James’ Park on Saturday

So what is defined as local and what is allowed?

Government rules state that ‘you should not travel outside your local area’ for exercise.

However, what does and does not constitute ‘local’ has been up for debate.

At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was asked if Britons were allowed to exercise seven miles from home.

He replied: ‘It is OK to go if you went for a long walk and ended up seven miles from home, that is OK, but you should stay local.’

He added: ‘You should not go from one side of the country to the other, potentially taking the virus with you, because remember one in three people who have the virus don’t know they have it because they don’t have symptoms.

‘It is OK to go for a long walk or a cycle ride or to exercise, but stay local.’ 

Mr Malthouse also said all supermarkets ‘reassume their responsibility’ and refuse entry to anyone without a face mask and start limiting numbers inside again with flouters facing police fines. But West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Brian Booth said this morning: ‘We just don’t have the resources to stand at every supermarket’. 

But Dame Cressida said her officers would also be prepared to assist supermarket staff if customers became ‘obstructive and aggressive’ when they were told they must wear a face covering.

Her warning came as Morrisons said customers who refused to wear a mask without a medical exemption will be told to leave its stores, while Sainsbury’s said its security staff would ‘challenge’ shoppers who were not wearing masks or entering stores in groups.

Dame Cressida said: ‘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.’

Kit Malthouse’s argument that long bike rides are allowed has been undermined by Kerrin Wilson, Assistant Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police, who said of one local rider going 50 to 60 miles: ‘What you have to understand is if he falls off his bike and is so far away from home , how is he going to get help if he gets a puncture. Other people are potentially being put at risk’.

Despite the confusion over what is and isn’t allowed during the current lockdown, like stopping on a bench or for a takeaway coffee during a walk with a friend, 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 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’ and urged the Government to enshrine the definition of ‘local’ in law like in Scotland and Wales. 

Mask flouters on tubes, buses and trains WILL be fined: Police chief’s warning – as Priti Patel warns of get-tough regime with lock-down rule breakers 

By David Wilcock and Jack Wright 

Police last night warned that people caught not wearing a face mask on public transport will be fined as Priti Patel backed an even tougher crackdown on lockdown rule-breakers. 

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would no longer ‘waste time’ trying to reason with lockdown sceptics as deaths from the latest deadly wave of coronavirus continue to soar. 

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, he gave examples of shocking ‘irresponsible behaviour’ from people not heeding warnings – even with more than 1,200 people dying every day.

They included a £30-per-head boat party in Hertfordshire with more than 40 people, a Surrey house party whose host tried to claim it was a business event and a minibus full of people from different households caught travelling from Cheltenham into Wales for a walk.

Standing beside Mr Hewitt, the Home Secretary said a minority of the public are ‘putting the health of the nation at risk’ as she backed the tougher police approach to lockdown rules.

Police last night warned that people caught not wearing a face mask on public transport will be fined as Priti Patel backed an even tougher crackdown on lockdown rule-breakers

She warned that officers are moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations, with nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued across the UK since March. 

It comes as No10 considers imposing Chinese-style outdoor mask mandates, curfews and 10ft social distancing to tighten up the shutdown amid pressure from scientists and Sir Keir Starmer to clamp down harder.  

Mr Hewitt said: ‘Organising parties or other large gatherings is dangerous, selfish and totally irresponsible in light of the current threat that we face. Organisers will be fined. But so too will the people who choose to attend.

‘Not wearing a face covering on a bus or a train is dangerous. It risks the lives of other travellers including those critical workers who must continue to use public transport to do their important work. So on those systems, unless you are exempt, you can expect a fine.’

He urged people to take personal responsibility for their actions, adding: ‘We will talk to people and we will explain. But I think the rules are clear enough for people to understand, we are 10 months into this process.’ 

Ms Patel said ‘far too often’ police officers were risking their health and lives by ‘coming into close contact with people, including those who deny the very existence of coronavirus, to keep us all safe’. She added: ‘We are now at a critical stage in our battle against this virus.

‘To protect those that you care about, and the capacity of our hospitals to protect us all, please stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.’ 

Ms Patel insisted the coronavirus rules that people need to follow are clear.

Asked why the regulations were not as tough as the first lockdown despite the parlous situation faced by the NHS, the Home Secretary told a Downing Street press conference: ‘The rules are actually very simple and clear.

‘We are meant to stay at home and only leave home for a very, very limited number of reasons.’

Outdoor recreation was permitted ‘in a very, very restricted and limited way, staying local’. She added that police had set out ‘the type of egregious breaches that we will clamp down on’. 

But ministers are under mounting pressure to clarify exactly how far people can travel for exercise amid public

Chaos for thousands of British travellers as the government is STILL yet to reveal what tests tourists need to take before flying to the UK 

Britons abroad face a race to get home before rules requiring international travellers to test negative for coronavirus prior to arriving in England come into force – and the UK Government has not yet released full guidance on which tests they will accept.

From 4am this Friday, those arriving by boat, train or plane – including UK nationals – will have to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.

But there is still confusion over which tests will be accepted, with the latest UK Government guidance issued yesterday referring to how lateral flow tests might be allowed ‘in some cases’ – and saying further advice will be issued to passengers.

Lateral flow tests are cheaper and give results in 30 minutes, while the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests take up to three days to identify positive cases.

Britons will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding while the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrivals. 

Passengers at London Heathrow Airport last week. Rules requiring international travellers to test negative for coronavirus before arriving in England come into force this Friday

Conservative MP Henry Smith, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on aviation, said he welcomed the test requirement for every passenger coming into the UK, pointing out that he had suggested it in the Commons as long ago as last January.

But the MP, whose constituency includes Gatwick Airport, told MailOnline: ‘It has been a long time in the gestation and it is not completely clear as to how it all works.

‘It does seem to be taking an extremely long time to pin down something that a lot of other countries have been doing for many months now. This shouldn’t take as long as it has. 

‘All of this is complex, but it is relatively straightforward in terms of asking people to take certain types of test. I don’t see what the delay is in terms of being clear about that is.’

The latest guidance released by the Department for Transport yesterday stated: ‘We will establish the standards that tests must meet in regulations. 

‘This will include that the test must be of a diagnostic-standard test such as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, and could in some cases include LAMP and lateral flow tests within set limits. 

‘We will provide clear guidance and advice to passengers regarding testing standards and capacity.’  

New arrivals who flout the rules will face a minimum £500 fine, while the operator who transported them will also be fined.

Passengers will still have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their test results, transport minister Robert Courts said in a statement.

British nationals attempting to return home who test positive must not travel and must follow the local guidance in their host country, and contact the nearest consulate if they need support.

‘If a passenger arrives in England without a pre-departure negative test result they will be fined,’ Mr Courts said.

‘We will amend the International Travel Regulations so that fines, starting at £500, can be levied on non-compliant passengers.’

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