Police increase patrols in UK cities as public head to pubs before second lockdown

Police appeal for people not to ‘see tonight as an excuse for parties’ before restrictions hit at midnight

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 04 November 2020 16:53
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MPs approve new lockdown restrictions

Police are to increase patrols in British towns and cities ahead of a second national lockdown coming into force at midnight.

People are expected to flock to pubs, bars and restaurants before they close for four weeks, and the government has admitted that the restrictions could be extended if coronavirus transmission and hospitalisations are still too high.

Police leaders appealed for people not to “see tonight as an excuse for parties” and stick to the rules in the last hours of the three-tier system.

There are also security concerns after an Isis supporter launched a shooting rampage in Vienna’s nightlife district, hours before Austria imposed a national lockdown on Monday.

The shooting and recent killings in France caused the UK’s terror threat level to be raised to severe, meaning attacks are considered highly likely.

The Metropolitan Police said patrols to reassure the public would be taking place in London.

Deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist said: “I would ask Londoners to not be alarmed by this, but to remain vigilant. If you see or hear something that doesn’t feel right to you, let us know.

“In London tonight, we will have a number of policing resources on duty to look out for you and keep you safe.”

The officer, who is Scotland Yard’s lead for coronavirus, urged people to adhere to the existing tier 2 restrictions before the new lockdown comes into force on Thursday.

“I know there will be many people thinking about whether they should head out tonight to support the hospitality sector before it closes,” Mr Twist added.

“It is hugely important that people who are going out, stick to the current regulations and do not see tonight as an excuse for other gatherings or parties that are illegal, and could ultimately put other people’s lives at risk.

“It is vitally important that we’re all sensible, use common sense and stick to the rules.”

Police chiefs in northwest England, which contains some of the areas worst-affected by Covid-19, pleaded for people to comply with the new restrictions to “get through this most awful of times and prevent any further suffering”.

An Isis supporter launched a shooting rampage around busy bars and restaurants in Vienna hours before Austria imposed  a national lockdown

Superintendent Mike Walker, gold commander for North Yorkshire Police's response to Covid-19, said: “We should resist the temptation to gather together tonight ahead of the lockdown and jeopardise people's safety.”

MPs have approved a new set of Health Protection Regulations, which state that “no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse”.

The law contains numerous exemptions, including for work, exercise, food shopping, funerals, weddings and other events.

It also bans gatherings of more than two people who are not from the same household, but there is also a non-exhaustive list of exceptions.

It enforces the closure of businesses, recreation and hospitality venues, apart from shops selling food, breweries, pharmacies, hardware stores, banks, post offices, pharmacies, vets and others deemed to be delivering essential services.

Only 38 MPs voted against the regulations after Boris Johnson sought to reassure backbench Tory rebels - led by Theresa May - alarmed at the economic impact and curtailment of civil liberties.

The prime minister said that the planned lockdown end date of 2 December should enable shops and businesses to reopen for the run-up to Christmas, but admitted that would depend on getting the coronavirus reproduction rate below one.

Priti Patel called for police to strengthen the enforcement of coronavirus laws at a meeting of the National Policing Board on Wednesday.

Priti Patel said she and the prime minister want to see tougher enforcement, but police said they would continue to use fines as a last resort

According to her spokesman, she told senior police figures: “I am acutely aware that we are asking more from our outstanding officers, and that they have been working flat out to keep people safe.

“But the prime minister has been clear that he wants to see tougher enforcement of the necessary restrictions in order to save lives.”

The latest figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) show that crime is almost back to 2019 levels, meaning officers have less capacity to enforce Covid-19 restrictions.

Senior officers expect a drop in offences during the new lockdown, following dramatic falls seen from March to May, and have been given extra government funding for coronavirus patrols.

The home secretary said police had been given £30m to enforce the law, telling senior officers: “We have empowered and resourced you to do more, and we now need you to strengthen enforcement.”

Police are stepping up patrols to check for breaches of coronavirus laws, but said they would continue to use fines and arrests as a last resort after explaining the law to people and encouraging them to follow it voluntarily.

An open letter signed by the chief constables of forces in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire and Merseyside said they had “seen first-hand the misery the pandemic has caused”.

“We have tried to ensure we have maintained the principle of policing with consent, that sets apart policing in this country from other parts of the world,” it added.

“Sadly we have seen a minority right across the northwest who seem incapable of demonstrating any civic responsibility and complying with the regulations.”

The chiefs said a “firmer stance” on enforcing coronavirus laws had been taken during local lockdowns, and that they would target people flouting restrictions with large gatherings, events and parties.

They said officers would also pursue people who put others at risk by ignoring instructions to self-isolate, adding: “To the minority who feel the restrictions don’t apply to them, be prepared to face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement.”

The chief constables said a “significant proportion” of people already fined had ignored the penalties and called for support from the government and judiciary to prosecute non-payers swiftly.

Figures released in September showed that under half of coronavirus fines had been paid and around 9,000 people were facing prosecution, potentially worsening a huge backlog in magistrates’ courts.

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