Covid lockdown rule breakers could 'make pandemic longer'

By Jenny Rees
BBC Wales home affairs correspondent

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media captionThis is the moment a police officer broke up a house party on Saturday

A minority still breaking Covid lockdown rules could make the pandemic "stretch longer" in Wales, a senior police officer has warned.

The "gold commander" for policing lockdown across the Gwent force area said he wanted to thank the vast majority for sticking to the law.

But Chief Superintendent Mark Hobrough said those "blatantly flouting" rules would face enforcement action.

Nearly 3,800 fines have been issued in Wales for Covid rule breaches.

The latest figures released by UK police forces revealed nearly three-quarters of those fines went to men, and the largest group falling foul of Covid rules were aged between 18 and 24.

Ch Supt Hobrough, who oversees Gwent Police's response to Covid-19, said he and his officers had seen a change in the way the public responded to the restrictions since the first lockdown was announced in March 2020.

"When it first started there was certainly a lack of understanding among the public," he said.

"We were called for advice and questions on what was allowed or not allowed, which we've certainly seen diminish."

He said initially his force was dealing with breaches of regulations by pubs and bars, or people holding house parties.

"That has changed over time. We still have experiences of house parties and people congregating in houses, which just isn't allowed obviously.

"But I think we are also seeing breaches in relation to people congregating in beauty spots and maybe not exercising in line with the requirements."

According to the National Police Chiefs' Council, there were 3,770 fixed penalty notices issues by the four Welsh forces between the last Friday in March and 20 December last year.

Of those fines, 2,188 were for breaching rules on movement restrictions, while 823 faced penalties for gathering in private properties outside their own households.

A further 113 notices were issued to individuals for staying in Wales when it was not their main residence, and 89 were hit with fines for entering or leaving local health protection areas, when many counties in Wales had separate travel restrictions in place in the autumn.

The figures also reveal that just two fines were issued in the period for failing to wear a face covering in designated indoor areas.

Enforcing the rules

image captionSgt Dan Wise says enforcement is sometimes the only option for his team

Out on the streets of Newport, and around the rest of the Gwent force area, the officers on the ground said they wanted to educate the public whenever rules changed, but they will enforce clear breaches.

"Some of the things people have been stopped for are travelling into Wales to look at the snow," said Sgt Dan Wise, as he carried out checks on motorists in Newport.

"Others are travelling to local beauty spots to exercise. Obviously, these are things that are not acceptable."

He said as the pandemic continues, with high numbers of cases and given how easily the virus can spread, "we will look to enforce where people are blatantly flouting the rules".

At the Gwent Police headquarters, Ch Supt Hobrough said he had this message for the minority of "those people who aren't abiding" by the rules: "It would very much be within everybody's interest for them to reflect on the way they are conducting themselves.

"Because that minority of people who aren't abiding are possibly making this pandemic stretch longer."

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