Coronavirus: People playing football and sunbathing in groups can still be fined despite lockdown relaxation, police say

Public urged to stay away from beaches and beauty spots amid fears 'sudden influx' of visitors will increase transmission

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 16 May 2020 10:18
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People return to golf courses following the easing of UK lockdown rules

People playing football or spending time with friends in parks will still be fined for breaking coronavirus laws, police have warned as another warm weekend begins.

Officials are appealing for people not to flood to beaches and beauty spots to enjoy the weather following the relaxation of lockdown restrictions in England.

Almost 13,500 fines have so far been handed out under the Health Protection Regulations, and the default penalty has now been increased from £60 to £100.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said officers would be patrolling parks and public spaces across the country.

He said that although they could not enforce social distancing guidelines, “police still have a role to act when people are gathering in groups with people not from their household”.

“It remains the case that we need to control the transmission of the virus so I appeal to the public to work with us,” he added.

“As most of the changes so far affect England only, we want to remind the public to be very mindful if they are travelling to Wales or Scotland, as they may be in breach of regulations once they cross the border.

“We will continue to police by consent, using common sense and discretion to determine what’s reasonable in the circumstances.”

Since Wednesday, a relaxation of restrictions in England means people can spend unlimited time in public spaces for their wellbeing, including driving to beauty spots, sunbathing and having picnics.

In London, the Metropolitan Police said recreation in groups of more than two was still illegal apart from for members of the same household.

Chief Superintendent Karen Findlay said meeting one other member of another household is only permitted if you are alone.

Police say officers will still be patrolling to encourage people to follow restrictions

“It is important to remind everyone that larger groups participating in, for example, games of football or other group sport in the park, outdoor concerts or parties, protest, marches or assemblies are still not permitted,” she added.

“The public can expect officers to be out patrolling this weekend; they will be supported by the Mounted Branch and our Special Constables as they continue to engage with the public, explaining the restrictions and encouraging people to comply with the rules.

“The majority of Londoners are listening and adhering to the guidance set out, but where necessary, we will be turning to enforcement as a last resort.”

Some regional police forces and councils are urging visitors to stay away amid fears that an influx of visitors could increase the transmission of coronavirus.

Concerns over potential vigilante attacks have risen after police issued a warning over nail traps placed in wooded areas around East Cleveland, and a couple blockaded a cycle path near Leyburn.

Cleveland Police and North Yorkshire Police have issued statements alongside the North York Moors National Park Authority asking the public to avoid large gatherings and crowded car parks by staying near home.

Assistant Chief Constable Mike Walker, of Cleveland Police, said: “As we move into a new phase of eased restrictions and many of us are now able to spend more time outdoors, personal responsibility is now key.”

Officials also urged people not to travel to the Lake District because of the potential impact on local communities.

Assistant Chief Constable Andrew Slattery, chair of Cumbria’s Local Resilience Forum, said it was “not the right time” to welcome visitors.

“Cumbria has been one of the worst affected parts of the UK and coronavirus is far from over, we still have people being infected and people dying in the county on a daily basis,” he added.

“People coming into the county from elsewhere just makes the job of containing and controlling the outbreak more difficult. We’ve said it before, the Lake District isn’t going anywhere, so please put off your visit for now.”

Police forces along the south coast urged people not to crowd beaches over the weekend, warning that toilets and other facilities would be mostly shut and lifeguards would not be patrolling.

Chief Constable James Vaughan, of Dorset Police, said coronavirus transmission had remained relatively low in south-west England and “we don’t want to see that picture change as a result of a sudden influx of visitors”.

He added: “We do not want the relaxation of the restrictions to act as a green light for tourists to flock to our beauty spots and inadvertently spread the virus to local people … please think twice before coming to our county.”

Shaun Sawyer, chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, urged visitors not to enter the region, adding: “There has been a national collective effort to protect all communities and we need this national effort to continue for a little bit longer.”

The County Councils Network, which represents 36 county authorities, warned that ”day-trippers“ who travel from towns and cities to exercise are likely to face long queues of traffic and difficulties parking.

It said that country parks that reopened after lockdown restrictions were eased on Wednesday will close if social distancing is not adhered to.

The Maritime and Coastguard agency warned that most beaches would not have lifeguards after the RNLI suspended its provision during lockdown.

Mike France, senior executive officer of Mountain Rescue England and Wales, also encouraged people to make a gradual return to hiking, saying: "No matter how much exercise people have been taking at home, in their gardens or local to home during lockdown, most of them may not be as hill fit as they were three months ago."

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