Tough action for law-breakers as England begins second lockdown
By Catherine Wylie, Tess de la Mare and Emma Bowden
People who flout coronavirus rules in an “egregious” way in the second national lockdown in England have been warned to expect tougher action.
Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops have closed their doors and members of the public have been told to stay at home for the next four weeks in a bid to reverse the spread of Covid-19.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said law enforcement will continue the approach of “policing by consent” to try to get the public to comply with the new lockdown.
An expansion of the number of Covid-19 marshals in local communities will also represent a “twin-track” approach to getting people to obey the regulations, he said.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Buckland said: “Where a more intense intervention is needed, then the police will be involved and of course the fine structure is still in force.”
Currently there is a £200 fine for every breach, which doubles with every offence up to a maximum of £6,400, as well as £10,000 for large gatherings.
“Because we have sensibly calibrated these regulations to adjust for the experience we had last time, the public can expect, where there are egregious breaches, the police will intervene and the law will take its course,” he said.
Mr Buckland said he supported clamping down on the “tiny minority” of people who are not willing to obey the lockdown.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether he supported police in their warning that they would “deal severely” with rule-breakers, he said: “I do. The fines system is clear, it is already working.”
“There will be increased fines for repeat offenders.”
He was speaking after police chiefs warned people who ignore coronavirus restrictions to be prepared to “face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement.”
It comes as Covid-19 case rates in England are rising for all age groups aged 40 and over, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.
Rates are falling among younger age groups, though the highest rate of any age group continues to be for 20 to 29-year-olds, which stood at 333.6 cases per 100,000 people in the week to November 1, down from 356.4.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed the jobs furlough scheme is to be extended until the end of March, meaning the Government will continue to help pay people’s wages up to 80% of the normal amount.
He had previously extended the furlough throughout November due to the second lockdown in England.
To mark the first day of the national lockdown, the Prime Minister and NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens will lead a press conference at 5pm on Thursday.
It comes as the latest figures show the NHS Test and Trace system has reached the lowest ever proportion of contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England.
Four in 10 close contacts of people who tested positive are still not being reached by the system, at the same time as it recorded its highest weekly number of positive cases.
A total of 137,180 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to October 28 – an increase of 8% on the previous week and the highest weekly number since Test and Trace was launched at the end of May.
Mr Johnson has been warned by a group of northern Conservative MPs that they do not want their constituencies “locked into lockdown” indefinitely.
Chairman of the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Tory backbenchers, Jake Berry, has called for more clarity from the Prime Minister for a roadmap out of the measures for a second time in little more than a week, as dissent appears to be growing within the Conservative Party.
On Wednesday evening, MPs voted by 516 to 38 – a Government majority of 478 – for the new restrictions, which are due to expire on December 2.
However, in a bigger-than-expected Commons rebellion, 32 Tory MPs defied the whips to vote against the measures, with two more acting as tellers for the noes.
Elsewhere, the Bank of England expanded its quantitative easing programme to boost the economy by another £150 billion to £895 billion.
The lockdown comes with a number of exceptions, including pupils continuing to go to school, limitless outdoor exercise and “safe visiting” for care home residents and their families.
Campaign groups and charities lamented the lack of detail from the Department of Health and Social Care, which has so far only issued a brief press release outlining ways in which care homes can safely allow loved ones to visit residents.
Suggestions published on Wednesday afternoon included one-on-one meetings in outdoor settings, despite the onset of winter, as well as chatting through a window.