Police minister Kit Malthouse has encouraged Brits to report their neighbours if they break the new anti-coronavirus ‘Rule of Six’ – but added that first-time offenders should not be fined.
Gatherings of more than six people were made illegal from today in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, which experts warned were on the verge of spiralling out of control.
Mr Malthouse told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme concerned neighbours should ring 111 to report any violations.
He added that first-time offenders found to have breached the ‘rule of six’ restrictions should not be fined.
Asked if people should report gatherings of more than six, he said: ‘It is open to neighbours to do exactly that through the non-emergency number and if they are concerned and they do see that kind of thing, then absolutely they should think about it.
Police minister Kit Malthouse told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme concerned neighbours should ring 111 to report any violations of the Rule of Six
‘We are in discussions about what reporting mechanisms there might be but there is obviously the non-emergency number that people can ring and report issues they wish to.’
Asked to clarify whether residents should be concerned about local breaches of law in neighbouring properties and report them to the police, he replied: ‘Yes.’
He said police should encourage people gathering in groups of seven or more to comply with the law, rather than issuing £100 fines per person on the first occasion.
‘Police should start with encouraging them to comply and explaining to them what the situation is and impressing upon them the duty they have towards our collective health,’ he added.
Gatherings of more than six people were made illegal from today in a bid to stem a surge in coronavirus cases, which experts warned are on the verge of spiralling out of control. Pictured, revellers enjoying a night out in Soho last night
Boris Johnson was in Downing Street today as the government faces pressure over its handling of the coronavirus crisis
‘Only in the situation where individuals refuse to comply should police consider moving towards enforcement.’
He said guidance for police officers would be made available ‘in the next couple of days’ from the College of Policing on how to apply the new regulations.
Police can fine people up to £3,200 pounds if they disobey the new rules.
Mr Malthouse told Today: ‘Police officers will obviously assess the situation in front of them but in the end we all have an individual duty towards our collective health and we hope that view will prevail.’
The drastic intervention came as Home Secretary Priti Patel warned people face criminal records as well as thousands of pounds in fines if they refuse to abide by the law.
Meanwhile, the government’s response to the spike in infections has been slammed by top scientists as panicky and flawed, with jibes that those in charge are a ‘Dad’s Army’ with no experience.
The restrictions are now in force in England after a weekend in which many members of the public enjoyed a final meet up.
Commuters at London Bridge today as the latest restrictions took effect – with warnings that even tougher moves might be needed if cases do not come down
The rules in England are tougher than in Wales and Scotland, where under-12s are exempt from the crackdown.
There are fears that worse is in the pipeline, with a 10pm curfew for pubs being considered amid alarm that young people are ‘forgetting’ Covid regulations.
People face fines of £100, doubling to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offences, for breaching the law, which bans social gatherings of more than six people both indoors and outdoors.
But the legislation could prove difficult to enforce, with a list of exceptions allowing for larger gatherings at places including education and work settings.
Venues like places of worship, gyms, restaurants and hospitality settings can still hold more than six in total, while weddings and funerals can still go ahead with a limit of 30 people.
Waterloo was still far quieter than before the pandemic today despite ministers urging people to return to offices
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 state more than six people can gather from the same household or two ‘linked households’ – made up of a household of one adult and any number of children and a second with no limit on the numbers of adults or children.
Rules allow for more than six people in total in indoor settings ‘operated by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body’, or at outdoor events organised by ‘a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution, a public body, or a political body’.
But those attending must be part of a ‘qualifying group’ of up to six people, a single household or linked households.
And no person is allowed to become a member of another group or ‘otherwise mingle’ with anyone outside their own group, according to the legislation.
Writing in the Sun, Ms Patel said those who fail to pay the fines face criminal records.
People out walking on the streets in Leeds today amid a backlash at the draconian new curbs being imposed by ministers
‘These new rules are easier to understand and easier for the police to enforce,’ she said.
‘I know that, as part of our national effort, the law-abiding majority will stick to these new rules. But there will be a small minority who do not, and the police have the necessary powers to take action against them.
‘This disease is deadly and that is why it is right that the police enforce where people break the rules.’
Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said he accepted that rule changes were ‘confusing for the public’.
But he told BBC Breakfast that officers would be working to make sure they are followed. ‘This has been really challenging for policing over six months,’ he said.
‘We had the initial universal lockdown, we’ve had changes since then, the public need to understand those changes.
Police were out on the streets in Birmingham today as the new coronavirus ‘Rule of Six) came into force
‘We work with all our partners in local authorities, people who are running shops, people who are running other hospitality areas, we are part of the group that are trying to explain to members of the public what the rules are and encouraging people to comply with them.’
However, former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption renewed his attack on the lockdown rules today, saying people should not obey the law if they did not agree with it.
‘I would say that people should make their own decisions in the light of their own health and that the law should be a secondary consideration for them,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Meanwhile, leading experts have delivered a withering verdict on the government’s coronavirus response, saying it has been led by a ‘Dad’s Army’ of well-paid people with no experience.
Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, from Oxford University, accused Mr Johnson of making a series of ‘catastrophic’ errors since returning to work in April, following his own battle with the killer virus.
People were out and about in the sunshine in Battersea, London today as the new coronavirus restrictions took effect
The pair warned Downing Street’s move to limit gatherings – which came into force today – was ‘disturbing’ and had ‘no scientific evidence to back it up’, arguing that it may well end up having ‘major consequences’.
Urging ministers to get on with life because containing the spread of Covid-19 is ‘unrealistic’, they warned the government’s ‘roll of the dice’ could tip the public over the edge and said it should be ‘binned’.
Writing in The Telegraph, Professor Heneghan and Professor Jefferson said: ‘It is a disturbing decision that has no scientific evidence to back it up, and may well end up having major social consequences.’
The column slammed the Prime Minister’s handling of the pandemic, warning he has been ‘beset by anxieties, doubts and fear’.
Welsh minister warns of full lockdown in weeks
Welsh ministers have warned that the UK could be back in a full lockdown within weeks unless the coronavirus surge is curbed.
Vaughan Gething said today that the country was in a similar position to February, with infections rising sharply.
The health minister added: ‘We were in national lockdown in the third week of March.’
Mr Gething said told BBC Radio Wales this morning that he wanted the UK to act together, but Wales was prepared to take steps by itself if necessary.
‘We have a number of weeks to be able to get to a position where we can recover some of the ground with a return to effective social distancing, with a return to respecting the rules we have in place to save people’s lives or we will be forced into greater local lockdowns and the potential for another national lockdown,’ he said.
And it said he has made a series of errors since returning to work in April, following his own battle with the killer virus.
The two experts added: ‘The rule of six policy should be binned.
‘When Boris Johnson returned to work in April after his brush with coronavirus, he warned that lockdown restrictions must remain to prevent a second wave.
‘Ever since, beset by anxieties, doubts and fear, and surrounded by a platoon of advisors, the PM has made one cautious, catastrophic error after another.
‘Last week’s roll of the dice with the ”rule of six” could well be the policy that tips the British public over the edge, for it is a disturbing decision that has no scientific evidence to back it up and may well end up having major social consequences.’
The professors criticised the Government’s attempt to blame young people for a recent rise in Covid-19 infections, asking what the purpose of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme was if it was going to cause a rise in cases.
They say the rule of six will have a minimal impact, citing their years of research at Oxford’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, which was set up to improve every day clinical practice.
They wrote: ‘At its core, the decision to restrict gatherings belies a fundamental misunderstanding of what is happening with coronavirus in Britain.’
The article, in the Telegraph, pointed out that 600 Covid patients are currently in hospital, compared with 17,000 at the height of the pandemic.
Yesterday five people died with Covid-19, compared with an average of more than 1,000 at the peak of the pandemic.