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Daily UK Government Covid-19 briefing - Speech from the Chair of the NPCC, Martin Hewitt

12 Jan 2021

Police are emphasising the importance of people’s personal decisions if we are to stop the NHS from being overwhelmed by coronavirus.

National Police Chiefs' Council Chair, Martin Hewitt, delivered a speech at today's daily government covid-19 briefing, held at 10 Downing Street.

It comes as the country enters perhaps the most dangerous stage of the pandemic and the virus seriously threatens the health service.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair, Martin Hewitt, said:

“The majority of the public have worked with us and I thank them for that.

“With a virus spreading so rapidly through contact with others we should all be asking ourselves whether our reason to leave home is truly essential.

“There is a real risk that our health service could be overwhelmed and people - our friends and family - could die needlessly from this virus.

“Those personal decisions are critical.”

Restrictions have been in place since March 2020 and although the majority have been following the guidelines and rules, a small number continue to ignore them.

Examples of recent breaches include a ticketed event party on-board a boat in Hertfordshire with a bar and DJ booth, a minibus full of people travelling to a Welsh beauty spot for a walk, and a couple who travelled 120 miles to watch seals in Norfolk.

Other examples are Sussex Police dispersing around 100 people following a gathering in a university block, and Humberside Police breaking up a house party of around 40 people on New Year’s Eve.

Mr Hewitt added:

“In most of our daily encounters, it has been enough to engage with people, explain the rules and encourage compliance. But a stubborn number of people have refused to abide by the regulations and we have had to use our enforcement powers.

 “We will not waste time trying to reason with people who have no regard for the safety of others.

“Organising parties or other large gatherings is dangerous and selfish.

“The police service across the UK is doing all it can to support the many people who are making daily sacrifices to protect the health of their family, friends and communities. And let’s remember each of those officers is putting themselves at risk in order to keep people safe and slow the spread of this disease.

“Our successful staged approach remains, but we will not linger on encouragement for those who are choosing to break the rules.

“The rules are clear and we all need to abide by them if we are to protect the NHS and save lives.”

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The full speech can be read below 

For the last ten months police officers, staff and volunteers across the UK have been out policing their communities. They have been doing their normal role of keeping people safe and fighting crime, but they have also been playing their part in defeating Coronavirus by ensuring compliance with the various health restrictions that we have all been living with.

From the outset we did this in the way that we always police – working with the public and using common sense and discretion. In most of our daily encounters, it has been enough to engage with people, explain the rules and encourage compliance. The majority of the public have worked with us and I thank them for that.

But a stubborn number of people have refused to abide by the regulations and we have had to use our enforcement powers. Up to this point across the whole of the United Kingdom we have issued almost 45 thousand fixed penalty notices, and for that, I make no apology.

It is very clear that we are now at the most dangerous stage of the pandemic.

There is a real and present risk that our health service could be overwhelmed and people - our friends and family - could die needlessly from this virus.

So, we must all play a part in stopping that from happening.

Ten months on, the rules are clear and I urge everyone to abide by them

With a virus spreading so rapidly through contact with others we should all be asking ourselves whether our reason to leave home is truly essential.

Those personal decisions are critical.

Since October we have guided our officers to move more quickly to issuing a fine where people are clearly breaching regulations and are not listening to us. And, in most cases the person complies after one request. But there are still too many who are choosing not to, and in doing so are endangering us all.

And so it is important for me to be very clear. At this critical time we will have more officers out on dedicated patrols to take action against the small few who are letting us all down. And let’s remember each of those officers is putting themselves at risk in order to keep people safe and slow the spread of this disease.

That is why it is disappointing to see some of the irresponsible behaviour that we are having to deal with. Let me give just a few recent examples;

  • A boat party in Hertfordshire with more than 40 people who had each paid £30 each for a ticket.
  • A minibus full of people from different households travelling from Cheltenham into Wales for a walk
  • In Surrey we issued a 10 thousand pound fine to the organiser of a party, which they claimed was a “business event”

And we are also preventing dangerous breaches:

  • In Bristol we arrested a 19-year-old man after finding an advert for an illegal rave on social media. Avon and Somerset Police prevented that event from starting, issued fines to 38 people who showed up, and turned away many more.

We will not waste time trying to reason with people like this who have no regard for the safety of others.

Organising parties or other large gatherings is dangerous, selfish and it is totally unacceptable in light  of the current threat we face. Organisers will be fined. But so too will the people who choose to attend.

Not wearing a face covering on a bus or a train is dangerous and risks the lives of other travellers including those critical workers who must continue to use public transport to do their important work. Unless you are exempt you can expect a fine.

The police service across the UK is doing all it can to support the many people who are making daily sacrifices to protect the health of their family, friends and communities.

As more people act sensibly and stay at home, we will still be visible on your streets and continuing the work that we have been doing throughout the pandemic to keep you safe. Our successful staged approach remains, but we will not linger on encouragement for those who are choosing to break the rules.

The rules are clear and we all need to abide by them if we are to protect the NHS and save lives.