Police were right to fine two women £200 each for driving five miles from their home for a walk, Matt Hancock has said, as he warned the public to follow the rules because “every flex can be fatal”.
The Health Secretary said he would “absolutely back the police” after Derbyshire Constabulary was criticised for overzealous enforcement of the coronavirus regulations on Friday.
Asked whether police were right to hand Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore a £200 fixed penalty notice for meeting up for a walk, Mr Hancock said: “I’m absolutely going to back the police because the challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.
“You might look at the rules and think, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or do that’.
“But these rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit to what people should be doing.”
Derbyshire Police has since announced it will review its fines police in light of new national guidance, following an outcry and accusations of overzealous policing of the lockdown rules.
The two women issued with a fixed penalty notice said police had told them their hot drinks “counted as a picnic”, after they were surrounded by police, read their rights and fined.
Ms Moore, one of the two women, said the experience was “quite scary”.
Andrew Bridgen, the women’s local MP, said he was “concerned” and called for “common sense”.
I’m concerned that my constituents are facing fines from Derbyshire Police for taking exercise in what I would class as the local area. It is important that common sense is used when enforcing guidelines, and a fine rather than issuing guidance appears to be rather over zealous https://t.co/9X5oKOm2cc
— Andrew Bridgen (@ABridgen) January 8, 2021
On Friday West Mercia Police warned would-be snowball fighters that they could also be hit with a £200 bill for mixing outdoors.
The National Police Chiefs Council has since issued new guidance warning forces there is no legal basis for fining the public for travelling too far from their homes for exercise.
Any fines that are issued can be challenged in court if the alleged offender refuses to pay.
Data from previous lockdowns suggests around half of fines go unpaid.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Mr Hancock said more people were following the rules than during the November lockdown, adding: “I don’t want to criticise the public because the majority of people are following the rules.”
Ministers have warned that the NHS could be overwhelmed if the public does not follow the rules while the vaccine is rolled out.
In a new advertising campaign, bright orange posters tell rule-breakers: “If you go out, you can spread it. People will die.”
Matt Hancock’s comments came as the UK’s vaccine rollout capacity reached 200,000 jabs per day.
The Health Secretary said one third of over 80s in Britain had already been vaccinated, and the UK was “on course” to reach two million vaccines per week – the number experts believe is required to keep the new variant of the virus at bay.
“This week we’re opening mass vaccination centres,” he said.
“Big sites for instance at Epsom racecourse, there’s seven going live this week with more to come next week where we will get through very large numbers of people.”
Asked about the spread of the virus in schools, which are closed except for services for the children of key workers, Mr Hancock said NHS workers should consider keeping pupils at home if possible.
“If you’re a key worker and your partner doesn’t work then you shouldn’t be sending your children to school,” he said.
“That’s clear in the guidance. But of course the reason that we keep schools open for key workers’ children is that this is important.
“I understand that more people are sending their children to school than they did last time. But we really do need everybody who works in the NHS where at all possible to be able to make it to work.”
Mr Hancock was criticised for failing to answer a question about whether Twitter was right to ban Donald Trump’s account.
Asked whether he supported the decision, Mr Hancock said it “does lead to very interesting questions about the role of social media, the role of social media companies and the editorial decisions they take.”
Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary, said: “Watching Matt Hancock struggle to answer a basic question about the Trump social media ban is deeply depressing.
“Even after Trump was rejected by the American people and encouraged a mob to assault US democracy the Tories still can’t bring themselves to stand up to him.”