People flouting coronavirus lockdown rules will be slapped with an initial £30 fine and could end up in court if they do not pay.
On Monday, Boris Johnson said tougher restrictions on people’s movements during the crisis would be enforced by police and warned those ignoring them would be fined.
Officers will have powers to disperse gatherings under a ban on meetings of more than two people apart from those who live together.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister issued a clear instruction on behalf of the Government on the actions the public are required to take to help prevent the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.
“As with existing laws, the overwhelming majority of the public can be expected to follow the rules without any need for enforcement action.
“We would expect that compliance to begin immediately.”
You would expect the police’s focus to be dispersal of groupsPrime Minister’s spokesman
The punishment would be a fixed penalty notice initially set at £30 but “we will keep this under review and can increase it significantly if it is necessary to ensure public compliance”.
“You would expect the police’s focus to be dispersal of groups,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
Failure to pay a penalty notice could be subject to criminal proceedings and a conviction, he added.
Regulations will be made by Thursday at the latest to allow police to issue fines under the 1984 Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act for England and Wales.
The emergency legislation going through the House of Commons will provide equivalent powers to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The head of Britain’s biggest police force, Dame Cressida Dick, told the PA news agency that the “vast majority” of people want to obey the new rules.
Speaking while out meeting officers on patrol in south London, she said her force had been planning how to deal with a pandemic for years, and “even in the darkest of times, to be able to keep people safe and give a good quality policing service”.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said that once the new legislation is in place: “My view is that my officers will just carry on talking to people and advising people. The vast majority of people want to comply with the law, the vast majority of people want to keep their society safe.”
Earlier, Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, told BBC Breakfast there was “a huge amount of clarification needed” on the rules.
Police chiefs warned of phone lines being inundated with calls after Mr Johnson’s statement, with questions about what movements are still permitted.
One team in the West Midlands found a group of 20 people having a barbecue despite the new guidelines.
Police in London meanwhile were forced to tell a group of sunbathers: “Can you all go home please? It’s not a holiday, it’s a lockdown, which means you don’t just come here and sunbathe.”
The force’s Chief Constable Dave Thompson said the force is “already receiving many calls on potential breaches of these arrangements”, and said the public could ring 101 with information about large-scale breaches.
Prime Minister @BorisJohnson yesterday introduced significant social restrictions, which touch on everyoneâs lives across the West Midlands.@DaveThompsonCC has set out what you can expect from us during this time.— West Midlands Police - #StayHomeSaveLives (@WMPolice) March 24, 2020
You can read his message here â¬ï¸ https://t.co/33jlUgGR7v
Asked how social distancing rules would be enforced by police, Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Ultimately, if people do refuse to abide by the rules then we will need to enforce them.”
However, he said the legislation has not been enacted yet.
The NPCC later said officers would not be deployed on patrol specifically to police social distancing rules but will “remain patrolling their communities as always”.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers in London, told Sky News the new measures will be a “real challenge” and “very difficult”.
He added: “We will be dealing with it, but I’m not sure we will have the resources to be able to see it through.”
John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, had previously told the PA news agency he “cannot imagine” how officers would police social distancing, adding: “I just cannot rationally think how that would work.”