Police condemn 'blatant' lockdown breaches as 160 fined
- Credit: Chris Bishop
Illegal house parties and visits to the coast prompted 160 coronavirus lockdown-related fines from Norfolk police over the weekend.
Officers focused on visitor hotspots including Sea Palling, Wells and Hunstanton, where they gave fixed penalty notices to people who had come from as far as Leicestershire, London, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire.
Four house parties were also disrupted - including two children’s birthday parties in Great Yarmouth.
A number of adults who were present at one of the parties where more than 15 people had gathered were issued with £800 fines. House parties with fewer than 15 people were also found in Attleborough and Thetford, with those attending receiving £200 fines.
Temporary assistant chief constable Julie Wvendth said: “We have seen a number of blatant breaches this weekend, many by people who live outside of the county who have travelled to coastal areas.
"A combination of better weather, lockdown fatigue and the impending easing of restrictions will no doubt influence some people’s behaviour.
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“However, the ‘stay at home’ rule remains in place and while the roadmap out of lockdown offers new confidence, we still need to take action now to get us there.”
Police warned 132 other people about the importance of sticking to the rules.
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Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said: “Most people in Norfolk have done an excellent job of respecting the rules so far and have played a key part in the fall in infections rates we’re seeing now.
"It is important that we keep to the rules and stay local to keep numbers of cases down. I know most people will, but where they don’t - I support the police in taking enforcement action.”
There has been widespread support for police taking a tough line on visitors to the coast, but others have said the force should focus on other areas, as the risk of transmitting the virus on the beach is believed to be minimal.
There has also been some confusion about how far people are allowed to travel to exercise, as the government has not defined a distance limit. But the police said the government's advice to 'stay local' meant not going beyond the village, town or part of the city where you live.
A spokesman said: "It might not be practical to give a legal ruling on distance, as some may have to travel outside their village for work or to access basic necessities. A mile limit could penalise those in our rural communities."
Andrew Proctor, chairman of the Norfolk Engagement Board and Norfolk County Council leader, said: "The prime minister has set out a clear roadmap for the coming months and we need everyone in Norfolk to pull together in that time to keep the number of cases low. Now is not the time to ignore the restrictions that are in place for the protection of everyone locally and nationally.”
And Eric Seward, acting leader of North Norfolk District Council, added: "There is some vagueness about what it means by staying local and I accept that we do ask people to exercise some common sense.
"We want to make this the last lockdown and the only way to do that is if we stick to the rules. Let's have one more push and get it done."
Hundreds of readers responded to a social media post by this newspaper asking if they supported police coming down hard on people travelling out of their area to visit beaches and beauty spots.
The vast majority of people were in favour of police taking a firm line.
One of those who commented, Wren Seaward, from Holt, said: “The rules are somewhat ambiguous and I can understand why some make mistakes. Obviously there's no excuse for travelling hundreds of miles.
“While some are deserving of fines, many should only receive advice, particularly in view of that fact that several high profile celebrities have held shindigs which should have meant £10,000 fines, and were only advised.”
Another view was shared by Roger Dyndal, of Norwich, who said it made little sense to fine people for going to the beach when there was a far greater risk of spreading the virus through non-essential visits to retailers which have been allowed to remain open during the latest lockdown.
Mr Dyndal said: “It's virtually impossible to catch outdoors but we impose stringent conditions.
"Meanwhile, thousands of people are wandering around DIY and homeware stores picking up goods and putting them back when they decide they don't want them. It's not following science is it?”
Last month Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told the government's science and technology committee that the risk of coronavirus spreading between people on beaches was low.
Prof Woolhouse said: "There were no outbreaks linked to crowded beaches, there’s never been a Covid-19 outbreak linked to a beach ever anywhere in the world to the best of my knowledge.”