Supermarkets face stricter controls as Coronavirus runs riot in England

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The Government resisted even tighter curbs but pledged to come down hard on rule breakers. Ministers are understood to be looking at supermarket safety as last year’s one-way systems, shopper limits and other restrictions appear to have been forgotten.

Talks with bosses are expected this week after yesterday’s warning by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that every rule breach risks lives.

Mr Hancock defended police from claims of heavy handedness after a series of controversial interventions, including targeting women walking in a beauty spot.

Urging people to stay at home, he 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. The police are right to take very seriously the rules we have brought in.

“We haven’t brought them in because we wanted to, we’ve brought them in because we had to.”

Mr Hancock urged everyone to help combat the virus, saying: “The most important thing is that people stay at home and follow the rules that we have got.

“People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said there was “a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules”.

She insisted: “Our police officers are working tirelessly to keep us safe. Not only are they continuing to take criminals off our streets, they are also playing a crucial role in controlling the spread of the virus.”

The Home Secretary pointed out that the majority of people had been obeying lockdown rules.

But she said: “The tragic number of new cases and deaths this week shows there is still a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules to ensure we safeguard our country’s recovery from this deadly virus.

“Enforcing these rules saves lives. It is as simple as that. Officers will continue to engage with the public across the country and will not hesitate to take action when necessary.”

Meanwhile Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said that current lockdown rules may not be tough enough and suggested nurseries should be shut down.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) guidance published on January 6 advises officers should still offer people “encouragement” to follow the regulations and explain any changes.

But it said: “However, if the individual or group does not respond appropriately, then enforcement can follow without repeated attempts to encourage people to comply with the law.

“We police by consent. The initial police response should be to encourage voluntary compliance.”

The council said its four-step “engage, explain, encourage and only enforce as a last resort” principles would still apply.

An NPCC spokesman said: “We’ve been guiding officers since October to move more quickly to issuing a fine where people are breaching regulations and not listening to encouragement.

“This continues in this dangerous stage of the pandemic.

“There is no specific rule on the number of warnings officers should give.

“Officers continue to use their judgment.”

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