More than 30,000 fines have been handed out by police for breaches of Covid-19 laws since they came into force, new figures show.
Data published by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) on Friday shows a total of 32,329 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued by forces in England and Wales between March 27 and December 21 last year.
The report said there has been a downward trend in recent weeks following a rise in fines as restrictions were tightened from September, with the peak of 3,288 coming during the week of the Easter Bank Holiday in April.
The most recent weekly figures showed 542 tickets were handed out in the week to December 17, compared with 821 in the previous seven days.
For face coverings, the NPCC figures showed a total of 958 fines were issued between June 15 and December 20, including 199 on public transport, an average of seven a week.
The remaining 759 were handed out in relevant places such as shops.
The weekly number rose sharply to 78 between October 2 and 8, remaining at a similar level until late November, when it began to decline, with 33 fines issued in the most recent full week to December 17.
Some 6,475 fines were issued during England’s second national lockdown in November, according to the data.
NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said: “Enforcement doesn’t and shouldn’t always equal police involvement or the issuance of a fixed penalty notice.”
But he added: “It is right for officers to be inquisitive about why individuals may be away from home.
“Those who blatantly ignore the regulations should expect to receive a fixed penalty notice and we’ll target our resources towards those who commit the most serious breaches and put others at risk through their behaviour.”
The figures come after senior officers warned of tougher enforcement during the latest national lockdown in England.
— National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) (@PoliceChiefs) January 8, 2021
The Metropolitan Police said people could be stopped by officers to explain why they are away from home, with Londoners breaching Covid legislation “increasingly likely to face fines”.
People not wearing masks when they should be “and without good reason” can also expect to be “fined – not reasoned with”, the force said.
David Jamieson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Midlands Police, called for officers to be given powers to force entry into the homes of suspected coronavirus law breakers.
Although the NPCC figures do not cover the Christmas and New Year period, Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Wednesday that more than 800 fines have been handed out for breaches of coronavirus rules over the last two weeks.
Preliminary crime figures also published by the NPCC on Friday showed that total crime was down 12% in November last year.
Mr Hewitt said: “Crime remains lower than at the same point last year. However, the demand on the police service is significant.
“Today’s release of statistics confirms the correlation of lower crime levels during periods of national lockdown.”