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The Tory Policing Minister has attacked people who are “flouting” lockdown rules and will “cost people their lives” – but has clarified a 70-mile bike ride is okay.
Kit Malthouse said a “small minority” of people were deliberately breaking lockdown, doing “ridiculous things” and “not taking it seriously”.
And he warned ministers are on “tenterhooks” to see if they’ll need to bring in even harsher lockdown rules as a result.
Mr Malthouse urged people to “think carefully about their responsibility towards their fellow citizens’ lives, frankly.” He added: “A small minority of people are flouting the rules, not taking it seriously, and they will cost people their lives. They have to realise their responsibility on this front.”
In a double whammy warning today, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said law-breakers are now “increasingly likely to face fines."
Kit Malthouse said: "A small minority of people are flouting the rules, not taking it seriously, and they will cost people their lives"
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There were 32,070 Covid-19 patients in English hospitals as of 8am on Monday – up 81% since Christmas Day.
The Policing Minister said police would intervene in serious breaches of Covid rules in shops or supermarkets. "The police are there if you like for backup if things get seriously wrong," he told BBC News.
"What we hope is that in the vast majority of cases the enforcement, or the reminders if you like, put in place by the store owners will be enough."
But Mr Malthouse’s warnings come after a flurry of confusion over the “stay local” and “only exercise” rules on leaving your home.
England’s lockdown allows people to exercise with one person from another household or bubble, but not to have “recreation” with them.
On Sunday Matt Hancock backed Derbyshire police for fining two women who drove five miles to a beauty spot.
But the force cancelled the fines last night, and the Health Secretary changed his tune and told people to “get out there”, as it emerged Boris Johnson had travelled seven miles to ride a bike at the Olympic Park.
Boris Johnson went for a bike ride seven miles from his Downing Street home (file photo)
(Image: Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post)
Meanwhile, despite a day of questions from the media, No10 was still unable to say clearly last night if people are allowed to walk with a takeaway drink or sit on a bench.
A source eventually said “a short pause during the course of exercise would be reasonable” – but it is illegal to leave the house just for the purposes of having a sit.
Even Mr Malthouse appeared to contradict himself today.
He told Sky News a 70-mile bike ride would be acceptable for some people, as long as they do not interact with others, before telling BBC Breakfast exercise should be “quick” and “close to your home”.
He admitted staying local was “open to interpretation” and defending Boris Johnson’s bike ride, he said: “Seven miles will be local in different areas and at different times.”
Some cyclists view a 50-mile round trip as completely normal
But he blamed the public over the confusion, saying they should employ “common sense”.
“I understand this is a sort of ‘Scotch Egg moment’ where people are searching for loopholes and problems in the rules,” he said.
There is a flurry of speculation over how the government could tighten up the rules if the hard-hitting enforcement message doesn’t work.
Ministers have backed supermarkets for bringing back mask enforcement, queueing and one-way systems, but Labour ’s Keir Starmer has suggested the government has to go further.
Critics have suggested nurseries should shut while the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg has reported schools could close entirely.
The Daily Mail has reported the two-metre rule could be extended to ‘two-metre plus’, essentially making it a three-metre rule.
Mr Malthouse told Sky News: “Whether there are going to be greater restrictions or not very much depends on the numbers.
“We’re all frankly on tenterhooks to see how the impact of restrictions on numbers that came in on Boxing Day will impact on numbers, particularly in London and the South East.”
But a Labour spokesman told the Mirror: “The Government should follow SAGE’s advice, rather than dither and delay.
“The failure to act quickly and decisively is one of the reasons we have one of the highest death tolls in Europe and face the deepest recession of any major economy.”
Mr Malthouse told Sky: “If we’re going to make sure that this is the last lockdown, please God it is, we all need to stick by the rules and take it really really seriously and unfortunately we haven’t seen that in some parts of the country for a minority of people who are frankly letting the rest of us down.
“We have seen some ridiculous things. North Wales stopped a car load of blokes going to climb a mountain in Snowdonia late at night in trainers.”
But asked if a 50- or 70-mile round trip on a bicycle, which some cyclists view as normal, was allowed under the rules, he told Sky: “Yes.
“What we’re asking people to do is when they exercise, to stay local.
“Now local is obviously open to interpretation but people broadly know what local means.
“If you can get there under your own steam and you’re not interacting with somebody and you’re genuinely taking exercise, and not going out for other social purposes, then that seems perfectly reasonable to me.”