Lockdown rules are now “unenforceable” and the public will “do what they want to do”, policing leaders have warned.
They said the sunny weekend had been marked by widespread breaches of the lockdown which one senior police figure suggested was “to all intents and purposes ended.”
With meetings of six people outdoors, private barbecues and garden parties and unlimited travel to exercise allowed from today (Mon), it is understood police chiefs have told the Government that lockdown is unenforceable unless it is a large gathering.
New official guidance, issued to police forces, is expected to tell officers to continue to engage, explain and encourage but the “last resort” of enforcement will be largely limited to big gatherings such as parties.
The number of fines have already plummeted since the lockdown was eased on Wednesday May 13 with just 841 handed out by forces in England compared with nearly 15,000 previously.
Ken Marsh, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said: “I don’t think the public are taking much notice of what is laid down in front of them. They are doing it how they want to do it. In terms of it being enforceable, I don’t think it is.”
He said there had been widespread abuse of the rules in London over the weekend: “It’s been very, very busy. We have had a lot of gatherings of people not adhering to the rules.”
He said the new rules - which included allowing people attending a garden party to use the indoor toilet - were unclear and “unpoliceable.”
“What are the rules? This is what I keep saying. I don’t think they are very clear. I think they are ambiguous. Any interpretation can be used on them. People will do what they want to do. The youth are not bothered because they think coronavirus won’t affect them,” he said.
He said there were also contradictory messages from Government and regional leaders, citing London where ministers wanted people to use their cars to avoid public transport but mayor Sadiq Khan was requiring police officers to pay the congestion charge but not other emergency services.
He added: “I am worried that we are doing this too quickly. I am worried that another peak is still possible. We are only just below one for the R rate, and have been for three weeks. I understand why because of the economy and the need to socialise but it concerns me.”
A senior police source said the guidance to be issued to forces would be “light touch.” Investigations into tip-offs would be judged on merit and “depend on the circumstances.”
“Policing have told the Government that unless it’s a huge gathering, it’s pretty much unenforceable now,” said the source. “Lockdown has essentially ended to all intents and purposes.”
From today, the rules allow people to meet five others at any one time, as long as it is in an outdoor space and social distancing is maintained. That means any two people from different households must stay two metres apart.
Over-70s can be among them, as long as they take “extra care” with social distancing, hand-washing and touching hard surfaces where the virus might linger. It means people can now meet friends and family in your garden, in a park or any other outdoor space.
Currently people have been able to meet in parks but not gardens.
Up to six people from six different households can meet although the Government say people should try to avoid seeing people from too many households in quick succession.
Staying overnight at a house other than your own remains banned under the rules.