Police who see people out and about during the coronavirus lockdown will stop and question why they are outside of their homes, the homes secretary has warned.
The third national lockdown was brought in on Tuesday following a rise in cases and hospital admissions across the country, forcing people to stay indoors.
Exceptions – including for essential shopping, caring for relatives or for exercise – have been made, but Priti Patel has said police will enforce the guidelines and issue fines if necessary.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the home secretary said: “Police have always taken firm and strong action when it comes to enforcement of coronavirus regulations…
'If you are out police officers may ask you for justification why you are out and about.'
Home Secretary Priti Patel says police will question people why they are outside their house and issue fines if they are 'seen to breaching the rules'.
Watch here👉https://t.co/fzcHkA6S4k pic.twitter.com/h9Tqb7I5P8
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) January 7, 2021
“The police will absolutely continue to be strong on enforcement. We’re in a lockdown, we’re back to where we were in spring of last year so the public should be out for very, very restricted and limited reasons only...
“We are in such a situation right now that the need to be out and about will be very restricted so it’s inevitable you will see the police out and about if you are out and about.
“And it’s almost inevitable that if you are out you will see police officers and they may ask you for a justification for why you are out and about – and if you are seen to be breaching the rules the police will take enforcement action against you and they will issue you with a fixed penalty notice.”
Patel was questioned about the evidence that people had not been complying with the rules, but when asked if police should stop motorists to check people in cars were from the same family, she was less forthright.
Challenged on LBC about the issue, she responded: "The police will exercise their professional judgment depending on the circumstances and the situation that they see.”
When asked again, Patel said she would support the police “depending on the circumstances”.
Watch: MPs approve England’s third national lockdown
She added: "If they see a car that has travelled into a local area that is not from that local area then they'd be absolutely right to question why is that car there.
"Particularly as the advice right now is to stay at home, it is the same message that we had back in March. People should only be out for very, very limited reasons."
Patel’s comments comes after the police said they will “no longer reason with non-mask wearers” as tougher regulations were implemented.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolitan Police’s COVID response, said: “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.”
Patel acknowledged that new coronavirus regulations had restricted people’s freedoms “in an unprecedented way” but urged people to comply with them.
She said: “This is our normal way of life now.
“Everyone will acknowledge and recognise that this pandemic has taken away so many of our freedoms.
“I absolutely believe in freedom and liberty, that is fundamental to our democracy.
“However, these restrictions are in place for a reason, we are in a global pandemic and we’re seeing coronavirus rise.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was important for there to be clear messaging on what was required of the public when it comes to enforcing lockdown rules.
He said: “There has to be an element of enforcement but I strongly believe the best form of compliance is by consent.
“Millions of people are trying to comply with the rules. What’s important for them is absolute clarity of messaging and we’ve had mixed messaging over the last nine months.
#London and the rest of England are in a National Lockdown.
Complying with restrictions will help keep you and your loved ones safe.
Officers will enforce obvious breaches. #Stayathome pic.twitter.com/5Z0byzSBqS
— Metropolitan Police (@metpoliceuk) January 6, 2021
“People are genuinely not quite sure what is expected of them.
Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), said that police forces stepping up the enforcement of coronavirus regulations had “stretched” resources.
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether there were enough resources to accommodate the new approach, he said: “Of course this has stretched us, there’s no two ways (about it), we’ve been at this for 10 months.
“Alongside this the police are also doing all the normal roles the police do to keep people safe so there’s no doubt this has stretched out resources and of course our people are tired in the way that everybody is tired.
“This has been really difficult and I don’t make any bones around that.”
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown