Priti Patel to hold press conference as police crackdown on Covid rulebreakers

Home Secretary Priti Patel will hold a 5pm press conference tonight with an update expected on the policing of lockdown restrictions.

Forces across the country are stepping up their efforts to enforce the rules amid widespread reports people are continuing to socialise in groups and are not wearing face masks in public.

Ms Patel is expected to address the nation alongside police chiefs, who will reinforce the stay at home message and stress rule breaking won’t be tolerated.

Earlier, Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said her officers have had to break up parties and other illegal gatherings in London, despite hospitals in the capital struggling to cope with rising patient numbers.

She said lockdown rule-breakers are more likely to be fined as Covid laws will be enforced ‘more quickly’.

The pledge was repeated by policing minister Kit Malthouse, who told BBC Breakfast: ‘We are urging the small minority of people who aren’t taking this seriously to do so now, and [are illustrating] to them that if they don’t they are much more likely to get fined by the police.’

While there are fears people are not sticking to the restrictions as much as during the first lockdown, the Government has also been criticised over ambiguity in the guidance.

Dame Cressida called for clearer definition on the rules amid mounting anger over Boris Johnson’s seven mile bike ride from Downing Street.

No10 has insisted the Sunday afternoon cycle around the Olympic Park in East London did not break any rules – despite the Government ordering people to ‘stay local’ when exercising.

Dame Cressida did not comment on what she thought of the PM’s trip other than to say it is not against the law.

She said that ministers should consider introducing restrictions on travel for exercise similar to those imposed in Scotland and Wales, telling BBC Radio 4: ‘Anything that brings greater clarity for officers and the public in general will be a good thing.’

The ‘stay local rule’ was thrown into confusion when ministers backed police who fined two women £200 each for driving five miles in separate cars for a walk – a move Derbyshire officers have since gone back on.

Official Government guidance states that people are only permitted to leave their home for exercise once a day – but ‘you should not travel outside your local area’. However, the rules mention nothing about driving to exercise, nor do they define the meaning of ‘local’.

Mr Malthouse failed to provide clarity on the matter today, saying people should stay close to home but that a 70 mile bike ride was allowed.

Speaking on LBC this morning, he defended the PM, saying his bike ride was ‘perfectly reasonable’ as he didn’t interact with anybody’.

He said the meaning of local is ‘open for interpretation’ but added it ‘certainly doesn’t mean crossing the country to drive to Snowdonia which we’ve seen happening, or up to the Peak District or whatever it might be’.

On the same morning, he told BBC Breakfast that exercise should be ‘quick’ and ‘close to your home’.

However, within hours he had told another news outlet that bike rides of 50 to 70 miles could count as local.

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