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Police chiefs seek clarity on COVID-19 restrictions

Police leaders are clarifying with the government how they will enforce the latest social distancing restrictions.

Ministers were told by the Police Federation that issues such as closing pubs should be led by council licencing officers, trading standards leads and that local authority public health officials should be leading the response to the virus.

Police Federation Chairman John Apter warned officers were still not getting enough protective equipment.

He warned: “I would urge politicians to think before they make such bold statements. I just cannot rationally think how that would work."

After the Prime Minister’s statement last night, forces are working out how they get the public who refuse to listen to government advice to stay in their homes to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

The government has moved closer to a total lockdown of the country with further restrictions on movement in a bid to limited the spread of the virus to avoid totally over-running the NHS.

The Prime Minister asked the public to limit their journeys and only go out to get exercise but stopped short of an enforced quarantine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night that officials were examining how curfews and other restrictions had been imposed in Europe.

The Home Affairs Committee was told last week that there is “always something on the statue book” that can be used to arrest someone but forces will need official guidance and confirmation that they are moving beyond policing by consent.

Police leaders said attempts to ask the public to avoid unnecessary contact had failed and are now clarifying with ministers how they will deal with a hard core of people who will repeatedly ignore official advice.

Concern also remains on how they will be able to enforce the request as officers self isolate because of the virus.

Responding to the latest request from the government, Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “We are working with the government and other agencies to consider how these new rules can be most effectively enforced.”

He gave appealed to the public to heed the government’s request: “Measures to ensure social distancing have so far not had the necessary effect. These new measures are sensible, based on scientific evidence and give people clarity on the exact steps they must take to stop the rapid transmission of this disease. The majority of people are already making real sacrifices to save lives and we urge everyone to follow the advice that is designed to keep us all safe.”

The Police Federation called on ministers to fix their priorities so that officers could plan and be consistent. But he also said officers would work to protect the public as well as carry out their normal duties.

Mr Apter said: “We are in unprecedented and uncertain times, with government advice frequently changing as COVID-19 affects more people.

“The practicalities of policing this lockdown will be challenging, but policing will do all it can to keep the public safe, but we need the public to support us. I ask that the public heed the advice and stay at home unless absolutely necessary. This will allow police officers to concentrate on keeping the streets safe and deal with all the regular calls we receive.”

Police Scotland’s Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said the force would be increasing police patrols in key areas across the country to “engage with and provide guidance” to people not supporting the quarantine.

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone QPM said: “We are aware of the proposed legislation in relation to coronavirus and are carefully considering the implications in this very fast moving situation, which presents the gravest of threats to the nation.

“In the meantime, Police Scotland has a clear, positive duty to both protect life and improve the safety and wellbeing of people across Scotland, while supporting the government and health agencies in our fight against this pandemic.”

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