Lockdown becomes LAW: Boris Johnson is set to face MPs ahead of vote


Police today vowed to fine anyone not wearing a mask, groups of more than two or anyone out of the house without ‘good reason’ at least £200 on the spot with one force ready to smash their way into homes to break-up parties.

The hard-line from England’s biggest forces came as England’s new lockdown laws were published and it was revealed they will be enforced until Easter on March 31 – not mid-February as Boris Johnson promised if the vaccine roll-out is successful.

Scotland Yard has told its officers and PCSOs to take a ‘more inquisitive’ approach to policing the third national lockdown when patrolling the streets and have ‘issued refreshed instructions…to issue fines more quickly to anyone committing obvious, wilful and serious breaches’.

The Met says that anyone attending unlicensed music events or large illegal parties will now also be fined – not just the organisers of such events – and anyone ‘wearing masks where they should be and without good reason can expect to be fined – not reasoned with’, the force said.

While West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has urged the government to give officers power of entry to homes, to help ‘enforce the new regulations more easily’ if there is an illegal party. 

The regulations underpinning the drastic lockdown curbs have come into effect in England after Boris Johnson said he was left with ‘no choice’ due to the mutant strain running rampant.    

Fixed penalty notices of £200 will be issued for a first offence, with this doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. Those holding, or involved in holding, an illegal gathering of more than 30 people risk a police-issued fine of £10,000. 

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, head of the Met’s Covid response, said: ‘After ten months of this pandemic the number of people who are genuinely not aware of the restrictions and the reasons they are in place is vanishingly small.

‘We know the overwhelming majority of Londoners will do the right thing by staying at home, wearing masks and not gathering, but a small minority continue to ignore rules put in place to protect the NHS and save lives.

‘Our first duty as police officers is to preserve life. The critical situation our NHS colleagues are facing and the way the new virus variant moves through communities, means we can no longer spend our time explaining or encouraging people to follow rules where they are wilfully and dangerously breaching.’

Tory MPs are alarmed that the regulations have extended the expiry date of the tiers system from February 22 to March 31 – despite the PM claiming that the system can start to be eased from mid-February if vaccine rollout goes well.

The whole country has essentially been plunged into a toughened version of Tier 4, with a ban on leaving the home unless there is a specified ‘essential’ reason. The law states that police and PCSOs can break up gatherings outdoors and use ‘reasonable force’ if necessary. 

Local authorities will also keep powers to control public gatherings and specific premises in their areas until July 17, rather than January 17 as previously. 

The Commons has been recalled from its Christmas recess for the second time today, to debate and retrospectively vote on the measures announced by the PM on Monday.  However, there is no prospect of the law being defeated, as Labour has said it will back them and few Tories are set to rebel with the surge in coronavirus cases. 

Boris Johnson after briefing the country on the Covid crisis last night as his new lockdown legally came into force this morning, ensuring people can’t leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’ or face fines

The regulations underpinning the drastic curbs have come into effect in England after the PM said he was left with 'no choice' due to the mutant strain running rampant

The regulations underpinning the drastic curbs have come into effect in England after the PM said he was left with ‘no choice’ due to the mutant strain running rampant

The new law removes a swathe of exemptions from the old Tier 4 rules, such as for outdoor sports  and zoos, and applies the stringent rules to the whole of England

The new law removes a swathe of exemptions from the old Tier 4 rules, such as for outdoor sports  and zoos, and applies the stringent rules to the whole of England

Police officers speak with members of the public attending a large gathering in Manchester in May

Police officers speak with members of the public attending a large gathering in Manchester in May

What is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home?

You must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This will be put in law. The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and issue you with a fine (Fixed Penalty Notice).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

A ‘reasonable excuse’ includes: 

  • Work – you can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home
  • Volunteering – you can also leave home to provide voluntary or charitable services
  • Essential activities – you can leave home to buy things at shops or obtain services. You may also leave your home to do these things on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating
  • Education and childcare – you can only leave home for education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children where they are eligible to attend. 
  • Meeting others and care – you can leave home to visit people in your support bubble ( if you are legally permitted to form one), to provide informal childcare for children under 14 as part of a childcare bubble (for example, to enable parents to work), to provide care for disabled or vulnerable people
  • Exercise – you can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble, limited to once per day, and not outside your local area 
  • Medical reasons – you can leave home for a medical reason, including to get a COVID-19 test, for medical appointments and emergencies
  • Harm and compassionate visits – you can leave home to be with someone who is giving birth, to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm (such as domestic abuse). 
  • You can also leave home to visit someone who is dying or someone in a care home (if permitted under care home guidance), hospice, or hospital, or to accompany them to a medical appointment
  • Animal welfare reasons – you can leave home for animal welfare reasons, such as to attend veterinary services for advice or treatment
  • Communal worship and life events – You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony.

There are further reasonable excuses. For example, you may leave home to fulfil legal obligations or to carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property, or where it is reasonably necessary for voting in an election or referendum.

Scotland Yard said today that it will stick to its policy of ‘engaging, explaining, and encouraging’ before enforcement.

But it said the public in London – where up to one in 30 people are infected – can expect officers to be ‘more inquisitive as to why they see them out and about’ and they will ‘move more quickly to enforcement’ if there is no ‘lawful’ reason. 

 

Police have warned it will be ‘impossible’ to fine everyone caught leaving their homes without a ‘reasonable excuse’ with the Met already down 1,300 officers because of sickness and self-isolating. 

Under the current restrictions, people can now only leave home for a few reasons including shopping for food or medicine and exercising once a day. It does not include socialising or travelling on to a second home in another part of the country.

But police say they have an ‘impossible task’ in rooting out all offenders as many will just lie about what they are doing. A police source said: ‘People will try to find loopholes in the Regulations and some will succeed’.  

It comes as the World Health Organisation said it would not recommend witholding the second dose of the vaccine for up to 12 weeks, insteading suggesting the interval should be between three and four weeks.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will outline a package of support for young people, after students in England were told this year’s GCSE and A-level exams would be scrapped.

The regulations enforcing a national lockdown in England came into effect at 00.01 on Wednesday, as new figures suggested one in 50 people had coronavirus last week.

Data from the Office for National Statistics suggested 1.1 million people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said people must take the ‘stay at home’ rules seriously as he warned that the country faced a ‘really serious emergency’.

His comments came as the number of daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK topped 60,000 for the first time, while a further 830 people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday.

But in a sign of progress, the Prime Minister said that more than 1.3 million people have been vaccinated against the virus across the UK so far, including 23% of all the over 80s in England.

Prof Whitty, speaking alongside Mr Johnson at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday evening, said the vaccine timetable was ‘realistic but not easy’, and that the NHS would have to use ‘multiple channels’ to get it out.

But questions have been raised over the roll-out, with a pharmacy chief questioning why the NHS is ‘scrabbling around’ for vaccinators when his industry was offering to help.

Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Negotiating Services Committee, told The Telegraph: ‘Rather than scrabbling around trying to find retired GPs and nurses and anyone who has possibly dated skills, you’ve got an army of thousands of pharmacists up and down the country who administer the flu jab every winter.

A deserted Regent Street in London yesterday as millions more worked from home again and schools all shut for seven weeks

A deserted Regent Street in London yesterday as millions more worked from home again and schools all shut for seven weeks

‘We’ve been telling the NHS that we’re ready, willing and desperate to help. But we’ve been met by a de facto silence.’

Meanwhile The Times reported that two million doses of the Pfizer vaccines held back for boosters would be distributed in the next fortnight.  

Police chiefs have warned that enforcing the third national lockdown will increase the load on officers, whose numbers are already stretched because of the pandemic.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said harsh restrictions will ‘put a lot of pressure’ on constables in London. 

Mr Marsh revealed that some 1,300 Scotland Yard officers were off sick or self-isolating in the capital.

Meanwhile John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that some forces in England had as much as 15 per cent of staff off.

Asked about how lockdown enforcement would affect officers, Mr Marsh said: ‘It will obviously create a lot of pressure on us because we have a lot more officers off this time than we did back in March.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said harsh restrictions will 'put a lot of pressure' on constables in London

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said harsh restrictions will ‘put a lot of pressure’ on constables in London

‘Our numbers have rocketed in terms of officers with Covid and officers isolating and we envisage that getting worse.

‘So the pressure is on my colleagues who are still out there to maintain the same level that they did before.’

On Monday night Boris Johnson announced a seven-week lockdown to curb the surge of coronavirus being driven by a highly transmissible new variant of the disease.

England will revert from a tiered system of restrictions which has seen the country following different degrees of measures.

Mr Apter warned that blanket restrictions were clear to grasp, which means officers would be less lenient to flouters. 

‘People should expect to see more enforcement as a consequence because there really are no excuses for not knowing the rules this time,’ he said.

He added: ‘The majority of the public will do what is expected of them, but I think there is a real issue over virus and lockdown fatigue. 

‘There is a real frustration and the police often deal with the sharp end of that as people are angry when challenged.’

Those holding, or involved in holding, an illegal gathering of more than 30 people risk a police-issued fine of £10,000. 

The Prime Minister concluded his gloomy televised address with a ray of hope, heralding the ‘biggest vaccination rollout in our history’. 

Ministers hope that by mid-February, all care home residents, extremely vulnerable, over-75s and frontline health workers will have received the jab.

Police officers chat with members of the public on patrol around the Barton Hill area

Police officers chat with members of the public on patrol around the Barton Hill area

Police top brass are also calling for officers to get the vaccine.  

Mr Marsh claimed: ‘It would appear that policing has been airbrushed out of any conversation in relation to protecting my colleagues, which I find quite incredible considering they are on the front line.

‘They are the one group of people other than the National Health Service that actually have to go to work and have to be out there with the public, every day, 24 hours a day.

‘It’s just amazing that no consideration whatsoever has been given to vaccinating police.’  

Mr Apter has also called for officers to be prioritised after society’s most vulnerable groups and NHS workers have been given the jab.

He wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘Without the vaccine, there is a real danger that more officers will contract the virus.

‘As growing numbers self-isolate or report sick with the virus, then the police service begins to struggle to do what the public fully expects of it.

‘Some forces are already starting to report up to per cent of their officers off sick or self-isolating. This is getting worse and is simply not sustainable.’

Mr Apter, whose organisation represents 130,000 officers, said the ‘last thing the public want is to call 999 in their hour of need, only to find we are too short of officers to be able to respond’. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘It’s wrong to suggest that police don’t have the resources they need – absence rates remain low nationally and we have supported the police throughout the pandemic, including providing an additional £30million in October for enforcement of coronavirus regulations.

‘Police will continue to engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce where this is necessary to save lives.’ 

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