Tough action for law-breakers as England begins second lockdown

People who flout coronavirus rules in an "egregious" way in the second national lockdown in England have been warned to expect tougher action.

Pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops have closed their doors and members of the public have been told to stay at home for the next four weeks in a bid to reverse the spread of Covid-19.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said law enforcement will continue the approach of "policing by consent" to try to get the public to comply with the new lockdown.

An expansion of the number of Covid-19 marshals in local communities will also represent a "twin-track" approach to getting people to obey the regulations, he said.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Buckland said: "Where a more intense intervention is needed, then the police will be involved and of course the fine structure is still in force."

Currently there is a £200 fine for every breach, which doubles with every offence up to a maximum of £6,400, as well as £10,000 for large gatherings.

"Because we have sensibly calibrated these regulations to adjust for the experience we had last time, the public can expect, where there are egregious breaches, the police will intervene and the law will take its course," he said.

Mr Buckland said he supported clamping down on the "tiny minority" of people who are not willing to obey the lockdown.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether he supported police in their warning that they would "deal severely" with rule-breakers, he said: "I do. The fines system is clear, it is already working.

"There will be increased fines for repeat offenders."

Coronavirus Newcastle
Shoppers in Newcastle on Wednesday ahead of the new measures being introduced (Owen Humphreys/PA)

His comments come after police chiefs warned people who ignore coronavirus restrictions to be prepared to "face the consequences of greater levels of enforcement".

Mr Buckland also said the lockdown will be used to "redouble our efforts" to expand the NHS Test and Trace programme.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said it is also vital to increase the speed at which test results are returned.

"Lots of people are receiving them the next day, which is good, but there are still too many people who are having to wait for days and we are going to continue to work to speed that up," he said.

"We've got to use this time not only to deal with Test and Trace but also to prepare for when we get a vaccine."

He said any future vaccination programme will prioritise those in greatest need "so we can avoid a stop-and-start scenario where we're having to go in and out of lockdowns".

The latest NHS Test and Trace figures are due out on Thursday, after last week's statistics showed that four in 10 close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were still not being reached by system.

Just 22.6% of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending October 21 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit – a so-called "in-person" test – received their result within 24 hours.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to outline further support to see the economy through the latest restrictions when he makes a statement on Thursday, including an extension of the furlough scheme for areas that remain in Tier 3 restrictions.

Mr Johnson has been warned by a group of northern Conservative MPs that they do not want their constituencies "locked into lockdown" indefinitely.

Chairman of the Northern Research Group (NRG) of Tory backbenchers Jake Berry has called for more clarity from the Prime Minister for a roadmap out of the measures for a second time in little more than a week, as dissent appears to be growing within the Conservative Party.

Daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK
(PA Graphics)

On Wednesday evening, MPs voted by 516 to 38 – a Government majority of 478 – for the new restrictions, which are due to expire on December 2.

However, in a bigger-than-expected Commons rebellion, 32 Tory MPs defied the whips to vote against the measures, with two more acting as tellers for the noes.

Elsewhere, the Bank of England expanded its quantitative easing programme to boost the economy by another £150 billion to £895 billion.

The lockdown comes with a number of exceptions, including pupils continuing to go to school, limitless outdoor exercise and "safe visiting" for care home residents and their families.

Campaign groups and charities lamented the lack of detail from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which has so far only issued a brief press release outlining ways in which care homes can safely allow loved ones to visit residents.

Suggestions published on Wednesday afternoon included one-on-one meetings in outdoor settings, despite the onset of winter, as well as chatting through a window.