‘No powers to enforce social distancing’ in England, police told

Police have been told they have no powers to enforce two-metre social distancing in England.

Fresh guidelines issued by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs' Council urges officers to only enforce what is written in law, adding that "Government guidance is not enforceable, for example two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces".

The advice, set out in a document published on Wednesday after being sent out to forces on Tuesday night, follows updated legislation coming into force.

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Lockdown restrictions eased in England
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Lockdown restrictions eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
A commuter wearing passes a sign telling passes a sign advising passengers to "Avoid this Station right now" at Walthamstow undergound station in London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
In Pictures: Back to the greens and garden centres as lockdown eased in England
Station staff work at a quiet quiet Waterloo Station in London during rush hour, Wednesday, May 13, 2020, as the country continues in lockdown to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Some of the coronavirus lockdown measures are being relaxed in England on Wednesday, with those workers who are unable to work from home, such as those in construction and manufacturing, encouraged to return to work. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Walkers take a stroll at Rannerdale Knotts in the Lake District, Cumbria, on the first day of lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions on leisure activities and outdoor exercise. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Two fishermen angle their rods towards the sea on the beach at Minehead after the announcement of plans to bring the country out of lockdown. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
Two men play football on the beach at Minehead after the announcement of plans to bring the country out of lockdown. (Photo by Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man fishes near Ashtead, Surrey, on the first day of lifting of lockdown restrictions on leisure activities including tennis, water sports, angling and golf. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man fishes near Ashtead, Surrey, on the first day of lifting of lockdown restrictions on leisure activities including tennis, water sports, angling and golf. (Photo by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images)
A police officer wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, stands with commuters as they travel in the morning rush hour on TfL (Transport for London) London underground Victoria Line trains from Finsbury Park towards central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by Isabel INFANTES / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)
A pedestrian wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, walks past street art graffiti praising the workers od Britain's NHS (National Health Service) and other key workers, by artists Nathan Bowen and Harry Blackmore, in London on April 23, 2020. on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED, - MAY 13: A safety sign saying "Pro-Shop open, one in one out, thank you" as golf courses reopen in England under government guidelines during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at Thorpe Hall golf course on May 13, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - MAY 13: A safety sign on the flag saying "Please do not touch the flags" as a golfer plays as shot on the green as golf courses reopen in England under government guidelines during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at Thorpe Hall golf course on May 13, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - MAY 13: A "Welcome back" and Covid-19 safety sign as a golfer plays on the practice putting green as golf courses reopen in England under government guidelines during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at Thorpe Hall golf course on May 13, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
SOUTHEND ON SEA, ENGLAND - MAY 13: A rainbow forms as sprinklers spray over the practice putting green as golf courses reopen in England under government guidelines during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic at Thorpe Hall golf course on May 13, 2020 in Southend on Sea, England. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
The British Government's new COVID-19 slogan "Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives" is pictured on the BT (British Telecom) tower, in central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)
WEYMOUTH, ENGLAND - MAY 13: A section of beach has been closed whilst police await the bomb squad after a suspicious item was found on May 13, 2020 in Weymouth, United Kingdom. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
Walkers take a stroll at Rannerdale Knotts in the Lake District, Cumbria, on the first day of lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions on leisure activities and outdoor exercise. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
WEYMOUTH, ENGLAND - MAY 13: A section of beach has been closed whilst police await the bomb squad after a suspicious item was found on May 13, 2020 in Weymouth, United Kingdom. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
A sign tells commuters that they need to wear PPE (personal protective equipment) of a face covering, or mask, and observe social distancing as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, at Westminster underground station in central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Protective screens and hand gel are seen in a Pret a Manger store on May 13, 2020 in London, England. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
A commuter wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, travel in the morning rush hour on TfL (Transport for London) London underground Victoria Line train from Walthamstow towards central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A commuter wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), including a face mask as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, travel waits on th eplatform at Oxford Circus to travel on a TfL (Transport for London) London underground Victoria Line train in central London on May 13, 2020, as people start to return to work after COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were eased. - Britain's economy shrank two percent in the first three months of the year, rocked by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Wednesday, with analysts predicting even worse to come. Prime Minister Boris Johnson began this week to relax some of lockdown measures in order to help the economy, despite the rising death toll, but he has also stressed that great caution is needed. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP) (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES/AFP via Getty Images)
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Neither the original Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 from March 26 nor the amendment enacted at 12.01am on Wednesday address social distancing specifically, so keeping two metres apart in certain circumstances is not a legal requirement.

By contrast, two metre social distancing "is enforceable" by police officers in Wales, the advice says. But Welsh councils, not police forces, are responsible for making sure there is social distancing in workplaces, it adds.

Referring officers to the updated law in England for more information, the notice reiterates: "People are still not allowed to leave or be outside of their homes without a reasonable excuse.

"The regulations update the list of examples of reasonable excuses, but officers' judgement and discretion are key – apply the four 'E's (engage, explain, encourage, enforce)."

The document adds: "Enforcement is a last resort."

Detailing the extension of the list of reasonable excuses and businesses which are now allowed to open – including trips to garden centres, outdoor sports facilities, open countryside and parks, or to meet one member of another household in public, or take part in house viewings if trying to buy or sell a property – it also sets out clearly that "gatherings of three or more people (from different households) are not permitted."

Coronavirus - Wed May 13, 2020
People can now go to garden centres, albeit with restrictions in place (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Going on holiday, including visiting or staying overnight at a holiday home or second home, and visiting the homes of friends and family (except where to protect or care for a vulnerable person), are not considered reasonable excuses, police were told.

Officers were also urged to be aware of differences in legislation in Wales and Scotland, particularly when patrolling towns and villages on the borders and encountering people travelling to outdoor spaces there.

The document said: "Travelling to outdoor spaces in Wales and Scotland for recreation (not exercise) may result in offences being committed in those jurisdictions, and so may not be a reasonable excuse for leaving home."

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