British police to get tougher on Covid lockdown rule-breakers

In parts of London, one in 20 people are now thought to have the disease. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) -British police will get tougher on those who flout rules aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19 and stricter measures could be brought in, the country's top officer and the minister responsible for policing said on Tuesday (Jan 12).

Hit by a new highly transmissible strain of the coronavirus, Britain is battling a surge in new infections, hospitalisations and deaths. In parts of London, one in 20 people are now thought to have the disease.

The capital's police chief, Ms Cressida Dick, the country's most senior officer, said officers would take tougher action to enforce lockdown rules amid concern that some people were continuing to ignore measures to limit social mixing.

"It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus," Ms Dick wrote in the Times newspaper. "We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines."

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the government could consider bringing in even stricter rules if the numbers relating to infections and hospitalisations showed action was necessary.

"If we're going to get through this in good shape, and hopefully make sure that this is the last big lockdown of the country, it's very important that we all stick to the rules," he told Sky News.

"If we're going to make sure that this is the last lockdown... we all need to stick by the rules and take it really, really seriously and unfortunately we haven't seen that in some parts of the country from a minority of people who are frankly letting the rest of us down."

However, Mr Malthouse said local cycle trips were acceptable under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised for riding to the Olympic Park in east London from Downing Street, a 12km trip. Covid rules instruct people to stay local when exercising.

Asked if longer cycling trips were within the rules, Mr Malthouse told Sky News: "Yes. And what we're asking people to do is when they exercise to stay local. Now 'local' is obviously open to interpretation but people broadly know what 'local' means.

"If you're... genuinely taking exercise and not going out for other purpose social purposes, then that seems perfectly reasonable."

London's Evening Standard newspaper reported that the Prime Minister had been spotted in the Olympic Park in East London on Sunday.

London police chief, Ms Dick, said Mr Johnson's cycling trip was not against the law, adding that she wouldn't comment further on an individual case.

"What I can say is it is not against the law," the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police told BBC radio, adding that a clear definition of 'local' would be helpful.

"Anything that brings greater clarity for officers and the public in general will be a good thing," she said.

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