Police have been told they have no powers to enforce two-metre social distancing in England.
Fresh guidelines issued by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council urges officers to only enforce what is written in law, adding that “Government guidance is not enforceable, for example two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces”.
The advice, set out in a document published on Wednesday after being sent out to forces on Tuesday night, follows updated legislation coming into force.
Neither the original Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 from March 26 nor the amendment enacted at 12.01am on Wednesday address social distancing specifically, so keeping two metres apart in certain circumstances is not a legal requirement.
By contrast, two metre social distancing “is enforceable” by police officers in Wales, the advice says. But Welsh councils, not police forces, are responsible for making sure there is social distancing in workplaces, it adds.
Referring officers to the updated law in England for more information, the notice reiterates: “People are still not allowed to leave or be outside of their homes without a reasonable excuse.
“The regulations update the list of examples of reasonable excuses, but officers’ judgement and discretion are key – apply the four ‘E’s (engage, explain, encourage, enforce).”
The document adds: “Enforcement is a last resort.”
Ministers defend ‘common sense’ easing of lockdown rules
Ministers have defended the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England amid signs of confusion and anger over the new rules.
Moves to unlock the property market mean that, from Wednesday, people will be able to invite prospective buyers into their homes but will still be unable to visit family or friends.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the Government is taking a “common sense” approach, gradually easing the restrictions as the outbreak is brought under control.
But with ministers encouraging employees to return to work where possible, he urged people not to “flood back” on to public transport, warning that the system will not be able to cope.
Mr Shapps said the Government is adopting a cautious approach – and that restrictions will be reimposed if the transmission rate of the disease picks up again.
“We must understand, we have done so well in the last eight weeks we cannot throw that all away, and so these are baby steps,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“If someone visits a home (for sale), that’s likely to be a one-off; if you are starting to visit your family again, that’s likely to be many more times.
“Somewhere there has to be a line drawn where we say ‘This is OK, but this isn’t’, in order to gradually release things. And this is where that line is at the moment.”