Police have today started to stop cars to demand to know where people are going and decide if their journeys are 'essential' as they enforce Boris Johnson's coronavirus lockdown after a shock poll showed millions of Brits are breaking the rules.
North Yorkshire Police said it will now be using unannounced checkpoints to stop vehicles and order drivers to divulge details of their journeys with Devon doing the same as the Home Office prepares to announce new sweeping powers for officers to help them break up public gatherings.
Those powers are likely to include the 'last resort' ability to force people to go home if they fail to listen to police direction or take notice of a £30 fine.
Police patrols have also started to stop train passengers in Swansea to make sure their travel is 'essential'.
The use of travel checks is likely to spark fierce criticism from civil liberties groups with police officers now seemingly being tasked with deciding how important someone's journey is amid reports of dog walkers being told to go home after driving to a public space for exercise.
Nicola Sturgeon appeared to pre-empt the Home Office’s official announcement as she set out her plans for police in Scotland at lunchtime which will see people who refuse to adhere to the ban on groups ‘made to return home’.
It is not the first time the Scottish First Minister has acted before the UK government on a coronavirus issue after she did the same on banning large gatherings to ease pressure on emergency services and on school closures.
Members of the public have been urged by Andy Cooke, the chief constable of Merseyside Police, to report large gatherings as the authorities move to enforce the Prime Ministers 'stay at home' message.
Mr Cooke said he would 'expect' people to report large groups but not to bother officers if it is 'two or three people stood at the end of the road'.
The apparent need for the new police powers to break up gatherings has been illustrated by reports of officers being called to friends having barbecues, house parties and games of football.
It came as a new poll conducted for ITV's Peston programme suggested almost six million people across the UK are continuing to go about their daily lives as normal amid fears spring sunshine could tempt even more to flout the rules.
Mr Johnson's lockdown means people should only leave their home for food, medicine, exercise or to go to work if it is 'absolutely necessary'. Group gatherings of more than two people have also been banned.
But the survey found seven per cent of Britons are still going out to see friends, eight per cent are doing 'non-essential shopping' and five per cent are not washing their hands more than they normally would.
Meanwhile, six per cent of people - approximately three million - are continuing to hug others and shake hands, despite warnings this will increase the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus.
It came as:
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak will finally today unveil a coronavirus bailout for millions of stricken self-employed workers.
- One of the government's top advisers said the UK's epidemic will get worse before it gets better but could peak by Easter.
- Dyson has been handed an order of 10,000 ventilators from the Government - as long as the machines pass early tests.
- Retailer Boots begged people not to turn up demanding tests because it has yet to receive any.
- Royal aides tried to trace anyone Prince Charles has met in the last fortnight after he tested positive for the disease.
- The latest coronavirus figures for the UK showed 9,529 positive tests and a death toll of 465.
he government expects the 'overwhelming majority' of people to stick to the lockdown measures but it is bolstering police powers to ensure officers have the tools they need to enforce the rules amid concerns some people could continue to meet in groups.
North Yorkshire Police said its officers will now be stopping motorists to ask them where they are going, why they are going there, and reminding them of the message to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
Assistant Chief Constable Mike Walker, said: 'The new and significant restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on Monday evening spell out very clearly what each and every one of us must do to save lives. The message is clear and the warning stark. Stay at home, save lives.
'These are the lives of the people we know and love. Our partners, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents.
'You may never be in such a position again where your simple actions will lead directly to saving lives.'
The force said the checkpoints will be unannounced and could appear anywhere any time with other constabularies expected to now follow suit.
Meanwhile, Avon and Somerset Police has apparently told people they are not allowed to drive anywhere to walk dogs or exercise due to the government's ban on all non-essential travel.
Officers from the force were reportedly handing out leaflets to dog walkers stating that 'the government restrictions currently in place do not permit you to use your vehicle to travel to this location to exercise'.
The document said government guidance stated people can exercise outside once a day and that 'you should not be driving to a location away from home to carry this out'.
A Facebook user posted a picture of the leaflet and said: 'I wasn't aware that you couldn't drive somewhere to walk dogs.
'My husband was given this by police officers at Quarts Moor and told they hoped they wouldn't see him up there again.'
The dog walker advice is likely to spark confusion given that many who drive to a location to walk their pet will not come into any contact with another person.
But the government is likely to argue that its ban on all but essential travel could not be clearer.
Derbyshire Police has also issued a plea to people not to visit the Peak District during the lockdown as it posted drone footage on Twitter of people parking their cars and going for a walk.
The force said in the video: 'Walking your dog in the Peak District: Not essential.'
It came as Mr Cooke, speaking on his first day back at work after contracting the virus himself, said members of the public needed to be 'sensible' when it came to reporting gatherings of people.
Asked what people should do if they see a gathering of dozens of people, he told The Times: 'We would expect people to call us ... [but] would urge them to be sensible.
'When you've got two or three people stood at the end of the road we don't need to be told.
'The great thing is we police by consent. Staff have been instructed to encourage people, convince people, interact with people. The use of the powers will be very much a last resort.'
Mr Cooke said 12 per cent of his staff were currently off sick or self-isolating - a figure likely to be replicated at other forces across the country, illustrating the resourcing challenge the lockdown could present.
Police broke up a house party in Coventry in the early hours of this morning where a dozen revellers were flouting the ban on social gatherings of more than two people. Eight of them were 'removed' and sent home.
That incident followed West Midlands Police neighbourhood officers having to disperse a crowd of 20 people who had gathered for a barbecue in the Foleshill area of the same city earlier this week on Tuesday.
Police have already started to adopt their own methods for dispersing groups with Manchester police reportedly using sirens and a loud hailer while officers in Leicester have been using drones.
West Midlands Police echoed a similar sentiment to Mr Cooke and said people should only 'advise us if there are large scale breaches with large numbers of people congregating'.
Anthony Stansfeld, the police and crime commissioner in Thames Valley, reportedly said he did not think 'snitching to the police' was necessary. He said it should only take place in the 'most extreme circumstances'.
It came as the government was believed to be planning to hand police in England the power to use force to make people go home during the lockdown.
More details of the approach officers will be asked to take are expected to be announced later today but it is thought they will be told to follow a 'four point' plan.
That plan will likely see them initially engage with people who are outside, then explain to them the terms of the lockdown, then encourage them to go home.
Only then would they move onto enforcement action, starting with imposing a fine.
According to The Guardian, the government could allow the police to use reasonable force as a last resort if people do not comply with the fine.
Ms Sturgeon announced something similar for police in Scotland.
‘It will now be the rule that you should only be outside for a reasonable purpose, buying food or essential household or medical supplies, travelling to or carrying out essential work, exercising once a day or providing care or assistance to others,' she said at a lunchtime press conference.
‘And those found not to be acting in line with the regulations can be directed to return home or made to return home.
‘They could also be subject to prohibition notices and if people don’t follow prohibition notices or instructions to return home they could be liable to an on the spot fine and ultimately if necessary prosecuted.’
Fines will start at £30 but Downing Street has said it will increase it significantly if it proves to be an inadequate deterrent.
Non-payment of the fine will lead to a court appearance and a criminal record. People will have 14 days to pay.
It is thought children in groups could be taken home to their parents but it is unclear whether they would be fined and whether it would be up to their parents to pay.
Concerns have been expressed about what enforcing the lockdown could mean for the relationship between the police and the public.
Stephen White, acting police and crime commissioner for Durham, said: 'We don't want to have a society when you step out the door there is a cop saying: 'Where are you going?''
Mr White said the application of the new powers was going to be a 'minefield' as he asked on what grounds fines would be issued and how the use of the powers would be monitored.