Police have issued almost 9,000 fines for breaches of the coronavirus lockdown in England alone, new figures show.
Leaders insist the penalties are being used as a “last resort” when people refuse to voluntarily follow the rules.
A total of 8,877 fines have been handed out in England and 299 in Wales in the month since the law came into force.
Under the Health Protection Regulations, people can be handed £60 fines for being outside without “reasonable excuse” or gathering in groups of more than two.
The amount is reduced to £30 if paid quickly, but can be doubled for repeat offences up to a maximum of £960.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) told a press conference that there had been 391 reoffenders in England and Wales, including one person handed six tickets, three people handed five, six handed four and 38 handed three.
Officials could not immediately confirm if anyone had been given the maximum £960 fine.
Confusion over differences between the Health Protection Regulations and government guidance, which is more strict in some respects, saw MPs raise concern that some fines are being given out “without legal basis”.
People must risk prosecution in order to challenge the notices and a barrister told The Independent that “many people have just paid up” to avoid going to court.
The figures unveiled on Thursday were higher than those given at a previous press conference, and senior officers said there had been a “reporting lag” from regional police forces.
The national lead for out of court disposals, Deputy Chief Constable Sara Glen, said 4,152 fines had been issued in the first two weeks of the powers being in force – not the 3,200 originally announced.
A further 4,725 were handed out in the next two weeks, with the majority being given to men under the age of 35.
Ms Glen said data on ethnicity suggested fines were “proportionate” in England, with 58 per cent given to people identifying as white, 10 per cent Asian and 4 per cent black.
In Wales, three quarters of fines were given to men, two thirds to people aged under 35 and 75 per cent to people self-identifying as white.
“Police are engaging with tens of thousands of people and most engagements have ended successfully without the need for a fine,” Ms Glen said.
“We understand the concerns that some may have of extensive new powers in the hands of police and we are open to scrutiny.
“We won’t always get it right and when we get it wrong we do apologise quickly and embed the learning.”
She said a total of 49 fines had wrongly been handed to children and rescinded, because the law only allows over-17s to be punished.
But several miscarriages of justice have been reported under the separate Coronavirus Act, which can only apply to “potentially infectious persons” but has been repeatedly misapplied.
Martin Hewitt, chair of the NPCC, said the purpose had been “reducing contact and contamination” rather than increasing enforcement.
“As the measures are relaxed and there are more reasons for people to be out and about the police role will shift,” he added.
“For some considerable time we will be in a place where social distancing and taking some measures will be something we have got to do.”
Mr Hewitt said police were “waiting to see” how the government will lift the lockdown and making recommendations, following concerns about disorder in pubs.
“It is obvious from a human behaviour perspective that the longer the lockdown goes on, the harder that is for people,” he added.
“At points where you’ve got really lovely weather the temptation to get out there and enjoy themselves is greater.”
While overall crime has fallen, reports of anti-social behaviour have rocketed and Ms Glen said police have received reports of 194,300 coronavirus-related incidents.
She said officers were using calls to “look proactively at concerns in homes” amid concerns over rising domestic violence and child abuse.
It came as figures showed that more than 3,000 new police officers have joined forces in England and Wales after Boris Johnson pledged to boost ranks by 20,000.
But recruitment has been made more difficult by coronavirus, which caused the closure of training centres.
The College of Policing is introducing new online assessments and biometric vetting practices that hope to replace the need for face-to-face contact with candidates.
Mr Hewitt said police were “well on our way” to meeting a target of 6,000 officers by next March.