Scotland’s travel ban will not be enforced by road blocks or routine stops, Police Scotland has said.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a “strict travel ban” over the festive period – including Christmas Day – with people unable to travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK, except for essential reasons.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Saturday night, Ms Sturgeon said she will talk to police and transport operators to see how this can be “strengthened”.
But Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs has now said enforcement of the travel restrictions would continue to be a “last resort”.
He added that the force would not change its approach to policing the restrictions.
Mr Speirs said: “I fully understand that people will be disappointed with the tightening of restrictions, particularly at this time of year.
“The vast majority of the public have been complying with the regulations and so the policing approach we adopted from the outset of the pandemic will not change.
“Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the legislation and guidance, and encourage compliance.
“We will use enforcement as a last resort where there is a clear breach of the legislation.
“The Chief Constable has called on people to take personal responsibility to do the right thing and remember the purpose of these measures is to aid the collective effort to save lives by preventing the virus from spreading.
“We have been very clear that we will not be routinely stopping vehicles or setting up road blocks.
“However, officers may in the course of their duties come across people who are travelling from one local authority area to another.
“Where travel restrictions apply, officers will continue to use the common sense, discretion and excellent judgment that they have applied since the crisis began.”
1/ I know this is tough. But this new virus strain is spreading much faster, and so we must act quickly to stop it taking hold. That means even tighter restrictions through January to prevent the serious situation currently faced by places like London & save lives.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) December 19, 2020
Current restrictions mean it is illegal to travel into or out of council areas in Level 3 or Level 4 without a valid exemption.
Police have the power to issue £60 fines to rule-breakers, although these are halved to £30 if paid within 28 days.
Repeat offenders can face penalties of up to £960.
The chairman of the independent advisory group set up to oversee the police’s use of temporary powers during the coronavirus pandemic, John Scott QC, previously said enforcing a travel ban is “simply impossible”.
Last month, Mr Scott told Holyrood’s Sub-Committee on Policing: “The reality now – as opposed to the height of lockdown back in April and May – is that significant numbers of people are entitled, quite legitimately, to be out and about on the road, whether that is because of work purposes, for care purposes or other essential purposes.
“There are far more people legitimately entitled to be out and about so it makes the policing of that simply impossible, I think.”
He added: “It’s an example of something that is unworkable, other than in those situations where someone comes to the attention of the police for some other reason, then it may be possible that a breach of the travel regulations would come into play as well.
“The police haven’t been given any more officers or more resources.
“They are also being affected now, more than at the earliest stages of lockdown, by officer absence, and they don’t have more police patrol vehicles.”