10 January 2021

Every flexibility of lockdown rules could be fatal, warns Hancock as he defends police enforcement

The Health Secretary has backed more stringent enforcement of the lockdown by police and warned that “every flexibility” of the rules could prove fatal.

Matt Hancock said the majority of people were “following the rules” to stay at home, but he refused to criticise the police over complaints that some forces had been over-zealous in handing out fines.

Police tactics have come in for scrutiny after Derbyshire Police handed out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot situated around five miles from their homes.

These rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing

The constabulary has since confirmed it would be reviewing all fixed penalty notices issued during the new national lockdown in England after it received clarification about the coronavirus regulations from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) following the incident.

Mr Hancock, asked about Derbyshire Police’s approach, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I’m absolutely going to back the police because the challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.

“You might look at the rules and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or do that’.

Police detain a man during an anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London, on Saturday (PA Wire)

“But these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing.

“The police are right to take very seriously the rules we have brought in. We haven’t brought them in because we wanted to, we’ve brought them in because we had to.

“Every flexibility can be fatal.”

The comments come after Home Secretary Priti Patel also offered her support to those on the front line of policing the lockdown, stressing that there was “a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules” and vowed that officers would “not hesitate to take action”.

But John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said on BBC Breakfast that a review would be necessary after the Derbyshire incident and called for more clarity on the guidance from ministers.

Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London who participates in Independent Sage, questioned whether the stringent restrictions needed to get further still.

“We have to get to a situation if we’re going to get on top of this virus and prevent tens of thousands of avoidable deaths which we are looking at over the next few weeks, we absolutely have to get right back to where we were in March, unfortunately,” she told the BBC.

Cabinet minister Mr Hancock said the Government was on course to reach its target of 13 million people vaccinated by mid-February.

He said that 200,000 people were being vaccinated per day, with the opening of mass vaccination centres this week likely to increase the rate of jabs.

One third of people aged over 80 had now received a vaccination, he confirmed.

Mr Hancock told Sky News that the country was likely to see a joint vaccination programme in place for the “foreseeable” future.

“I think it’s highly likely that there will be a dual-vaccination programme for the foreseeable – this is the medium-term – of flu and Covid,” he added.

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