Police will have the “full support” of Government in enforcing the coronavirus lockdown, Downing Street has said.
As the country heads into the Easter bank holiday weekend, No 10 said it is at a “critical juncture” in the battle to curb the spread of the disease.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman made clear there can be no early lifting of the strict social distancing rules, urging the public to “stick with it”.
The spokesman also said Boris Johnson’s condition is “continuing to improve” after a third night in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital where he is being treated for Covid-19.
The Government is due to carry out the first three-week review of the restrictions introduced last month early next week.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is deputising for Mr Johnson – will lead a meeting on Thursday of the Cobra civil contingencies committee with the leaders of the devolved administrations to discuss how the review will be conducted.
However the Prime Minister’s spokesman indicated he agrees with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that there is “no possibility” of any relaxation at this point.
“What we absolutely need to do now is keep bearing down on the rate of transmission which will mean continuing with social distancing measures to ensure we are protecting the NHS and saving lives,” the spokesman said.
“That is certainly the case as we approach the Easter bank holiday weekend.
“The public response to this has been brilliant. People have made very big sacrifices in the way they live their lives.
“You are beginning to see the impact that is having but people really do need to stick with it at what is a critical juncture.”
The call came amid fears the expected fine weather over the weekend will again see crowds flocking to beaches and beauty spots, threatening to undermine the progress which ministers and officials say has been made.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said individual police forces will use their “discretion” as to how the measures are enforced.
He said: “We have given them a job to do. They will use their own discretion about how they best do that job.
“The powers which we have given the police are there to save lives. The police have our full backing and they have the public’s backing too.
“They have set out in advice to officers that they should engage, explain and finally enforce.”
The warning came as Northamptonshire Chief Constable Nick Adderley said his force was only “a few days away” from imposing road blocks and searching shopping trolleys for non-essential items if people continued to flout the rules.
“If things don’t improve, and we don’t get the compliance we would expect, then the next stage will be road blocks and it will be stopping people to ask why they are going, where they’re going,” he said.
“This is about reasonableness and if people are not reasonable in terms of the journeys and the trips they are taking, they are going to fall foul of the law.”
The tactics were condemned as “outrageous” by the civil liberties group, Big Brother Watch.
“It would be completely disproportionate for police to start investigating shopping baskets or stopping every car at road checks, and there’s no legal basis for them to do so,” said director Silkie Carlo.
In response, Downing Street said that those shops which were still open “are free to sell any items they have in stock”.
However, forces across England and Wales made clear they would be stepping up measures over the bank holiday weekend to ensure the rules were enforced.
Cheshire police said there were plans for patrols on major roads, with officers stopping drivers to check whether their travel was essential, while Avon and Somerset said they would have more police on the roads.
Superintendent Glyn Fernquest, from Gwent Police, said: “We will be stepping up our response to enforcement this week. There can be no excuses.”
West Midlands Police chief constable David Thompson said officers would be “nudging” people to follow the rules, while use of enforcement powers would be “the exception, not the rule”.
He added: “I can genuinely say to the people of the West Midlands, they can go about their business at the weekends.
“If they are out shopping they can be absolutely certain I have no interest what’s in their shopping basket whatsoever, and neither have my officers.”