Priti Patel hands police greater COVID-19 lockdown powers

Aditi Khanna

London, March 26 (PTI) The UK government on Thursday handed police forces in England the power to fine and even arrest those repeatedly breaking strict lockdown rules in place in the country to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said that to ensure people stay at home and avoid non-essential travel, police will be empowered to instruct members of the public to go home, leave an area or disperse and can issue a fixed penalty notice of 60 pounds which would double with each repeat offence.

Individuals who do not pay a fixed penalty notice under the regulations could be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines, and if someone continues to refuse to comply, the police may even arrest them where deemed “proportionate and necessary”.

“The Prime Minister has been clear on what we need to do: stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives,” the Indian-origin Cabinet minister said.

All our frontline services really are the best of us and are doing an incredible job to stop this terrible virus from spreading. That’s why I’m giving the police these new enforcement powers, to protect the public and keep people safe,” she said.

Under the rules, the fixed penalty of 60 pounds will be lowered to 30 pounds if paid within 14 days and parents would be held accountable for their children following the lockdown.

However, the Home Office said that in the first instance the police will always apply their “common sense and discretion”.

It reminded people that they will only be allowed to leave their home for shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible; one form of exercise a day, alone or with members of their household; any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and travelling to and from work, but only where they cannot work from home.

Participating in gatherings of more than two people in public spaces is not permitted except in very limited circumstances, for example, where it is for essential work purposes.

In addition to the new powers, a package of support has been unveiled to boost police resources including protective gear.

The announcement came as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed that anyone using coronavirus to threaten police and emergency workers faces serious criminal charges.

The CPS intervention comes after reports in recent days of police, shop workers and vulnerable groups being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have the disease.

“I am therefore appalled by reports of police officers and other frontline workers being deliberately coughed at by people claiming to have COVID-19. Let me be very clear: this is a crime and needs to stop,” said Max Hill, CPS Director of Public Prosecutions.

Coughs directed as a threat at other key workers or members of the public could be charged as common assault, punishable by up to 12 months in prison. PTI AK ZH ZH