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Coronavirus: What powers do the police have?

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
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From Monday, it will be against the law in England to hold most social gatherings of more than six people.

Police will be able to break up larger groups and to fine those who don't follow the rules.

What can police do if I meet six or more friends?

From Monday 14 September, indoor and outdoor social gatherings of more than six people will be banned in England.

There are exceptions for workplaces, schools and occasions like weddings and funerals. The government is due to outline any further exemptions.

  • What are the new rules for meeting my friends?

The new rules narrow the gap between non-enforceable coronavirus guidelines currently in place and the law.

For example, current guidelines say outdoor gatherings larger than six should only take place if everyone is from two households. However, police are only able to disperse and fine people if the group is larger than 30.

The new rules will be backed by law, so police can take action if you are in a group of more than six. The government says: "Putting the new, lower limit in law will make it easier for the police to identify and disperse illegal gatherings."

How much could I be fined?

If you are part of a group which refuses to disperse when told to by police you could get a £100 penalty ticket (£50 if paid within 14 days).

This doubles with every extra offence, rising to £3,200 for six or more offences.

Additionally, organisers of illegal gatherings in England can be fined £10,000. This penalty came in after a number of house parties and unlicensed gatherings were broken up by police.

image copyrightWest Midlands Police
image captionHundreds of people were caught on a drone camera at an illegal party by West Midlands Police

What about other parts of the UK?

In Scotland, police have the power to break up house parties with more than 15 people.

Can police make me cover my face in a shop?

If you are in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland - yes they can, and you could be fined £100.

Shop staff and security guards have no formal powers to enforce the wearing of masks - so disputes may need to be resolved by the police.

In Wales, you don't have to wear a face covering in a shop.

You must wear a face covering on public transport in all parts of the UK, although some people are exempt - including children aged under 11 and people assisting those who rely on lip reading.

image copyrightEPA

In England and Wales, up to 17 August, 46 fines had been handed out by police.

Can I be stopped from going to a public place?

In England, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has an exceptional power to completely close a specific public place.

Local councils have a suite of powers to close down premises, stop events and shut down places like parks.

These could be used to close beaches or beauty spots if there were concerns about crowds potentially spreading the virus.

image copyrightReuters

What if pubs and cafes break the rules?

They could be forced to close if they cannot keep staff and customers safe.

The Health and Safety Executive can enforce closure if it believes there is a danger - for instance in an overcrowded factory.

Businesses that are open must show they have plans to reduce the risk of transmission - like a one-way system around their premises.

If a premises was the source of an outbreak, local public health directors could use a longstanding legal power to close it while the virus was tackled.

What about social distancing?

Public health guidance encourages people to continue social distancing.

However, many of the laws (which could have resulted in fines) have now been removed. At the peak of the lockdown it was illegal to leave your home without good reason or - when rules were being relaxed - gathering outside in groups larger than six people.

Up until 17 August, 21,865 fines had been given out in England and Wales, mainly for breaching the ban on unnecessary travel.

However, areas can still be put into local lockdowns. If this happens, new local laws can be created.

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