New laws come into force from Monday banning social gatherings of more than six people across England.
The new rules will apply to all ages, to gatherings indoors and outdoors, in private homes, public outdoor spaces and venues such as pubs and restaurants.
Legal exemptions to the six person rule apply. These will permit certain gatherings in any number, for example where your household or support bubble is larger than six, where gatherings are for work or education purposes, or where parenting is being shared across multiple households.
Further exemptions also apply, such as for weddings, funerals, and organised team sports in a Covid Secure way. The full list of exemptions have been published on gov.uk.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh has praised the public for their heroic efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Avon and Somerset area, but urged people to continue following the regulations in place to protect their loved ones.
He said: “The new law reducing the size of gatherings from 30 to six people is clear and I hope people will continue to abide by the regulations as diligently as they have done. I’ve been enormously heartened by the response of our communities so far in tackling this dreadful virus but we must not become complacent; there is still more work for all of us to do.
“We’ll continue to be out in our communities engaging, explaining and encouraging people to do the right thing but, as we’ve always said, we will not be able to police our way out of this situation and we will use the enforcement available to us should we need to.
“Demand for our services is now getting back to expected levels after a fall at the start of lockdown, meaning we’ll have to prioritise our resources based on the threat, harm and risk each incident or report presents.
“Any group larger than six risks being dispersed by officers or fined for non-compliance but I hope it doesn’t come to that too often and people will work with us to ultimately protect themselves and others.”
In terms of enforcement, 150 people are to be summonsed to court for failing to pay fines issued for breaching COVID-19 regulations.
A total of 362 Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued across the Avon and Somerset force area since the regulations came into force in March.
The majority of people have paid their fines but more than 40% of cases have been referred to magistrates as they remain unpaid after 28 days of being issued.
FPNs issued before 13 May were £60, but fell to £30 if paid within 14 days. Any fines issued after 13 May are £100, but fall to £50 if paid within 14 days. The fine increases significantly for repeat offenders.
Among those due to appear at court are:
- a 29-year-old man issued with an FPN for travelling from Essex
- a 34-year-old man issued with an FPN for travelling to and back from Torquay
- a 30-year-old woman issued with an FPN for attending a house party
- a 29-year-old man issued with an FPN for repeatedly visiting people in their homes where he did not live
The Chief Constable said: “Throughout this pandemic we’ve always looked to engage with the public, explain the regulations and encourage them to act responsibly.
“We’ve never wanted to issue people with fines but there have been times, mainly when people have wilfully ignored our requests to do the right thing, when enforcement has been necessary.
“Everyone has a role to play in limiting the spread of COVID-19 but it’s clear there are a minority who, even after having been issued with an FPN, refuse to take responsibility for their actions which ultimately risks increasing infection rates.
“The regulations aren’t in place to punish people, they are there to save lives and anyone who refuses to pay a FPN issued for breaching coronavirus regulations can expect to end up in court.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens added: “Over the past few months I have been continually impressed by the determination and commitment of individuals, families and communities across Avon and Somerset who have made many sacrifices to reduce the spread of the virus.
“As the coronavirus regulations continue to fluctuate, it is inevitable that we will all continue to have questions and concerns in the coming weeks. I hope that this change in regulations brings clarity for our communities.
“The recent increase in cases is a stark reminder that we must all continue to be cautious, act with common sense and ensure that our sacrifices so far do not go to waste.
“I continue to be impressed by how officers have dealt with the policing of the pandemic and I fully support their approach to engage, explain, encourage and if necessary, enforce the regulations.
“As we have seen throughout lockdown, this approach has been successful and I am sure local people will continue to work with the police to help reduce the number of coronavirus cases in our communities.
“Although there has been a small minority who continue to ignore the guidance and risk a rise in coronavirus cases, I would like to thank the majority of local people who observe the regulations that are in place to keep us all safe.
“Together, we must take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our communities from the virus, I urge you all to remember that by following the regulations, we are all making a difference.”