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Hancock defends UK police fining two women £200 for driving 8km to go for a walk

“I’m absolutely going to back the police because the challenge here is that every flex can be fatal,” the UK Health Secretary said.

Image: Sky News

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT’S health minister Matt Hancock has backed more stringent enforcement of the lockdown by police and warned that “every flexibility” of the rules could prove fatal.

Matt Hancock said the majority of people are “following the rules” to stay at home, but he refused to criticise the police over complaints that some forces have been over-zealous in handing out fines.

Police tactics have come in for scrutiny after Derbyshire Police handed out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot situated around 5 miles – around 8km – from their homes.

Guidance in England states that people can travel for exercise as long as it is in their “local area”; the east midlands police force said that the women’s actions were not in the spirit of the restrictions, according to the BBC.

The constabulary has since confirmed it will be reviewing all fixed penalty notices issued during the new national lockdown in England after it received clarification about the coronavirus regulations from the National Police Chiefs’ Council following the incident.

Hancock, asked about Derbyshire Police’s approach, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “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.
“Every flexibility can be fatal.”

The comments came after Home Secretary Priti Patel also offered her support to those on the front line of policing the lockdown, stressing that there is “a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules” and vowed that officers will “not hesitate to take action”.

But John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said on BBC Breakfast that a review would be necessary after the Derbyshire incident and called for more clarity on the guidance from ministers.

Some experts have branded the current lockdown measures not strict enough, in the face of the more transmissible variant which has spread rapidly in many parts of the country.

Sir Keir Starmer told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the current lockdown rules “may not be tough enough”.

Hancock also said the British government is on course to reach its target of 13 million people vaccinated by mid-February.

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He said that 200,000 people are being inoculated per day, with the opening of seven mass vaccination centres this week likely to increase the rate of jabs.

One third of people over the age of 80 has now received a vaccination, he confirmed, while all adults are expected to be offered an injection by the autumn.

Mr Hancock told Sky News that the country is likely to see a joint vaccination programme in place for the “foreseeable” future.

“I think it’s highly likely that there will be a dual-vaccination programme for the foreseeable – this is the medium term – of flu and Covid,” he added.

It came as the number of patients with Covid-19 in hospital reached a record high in England, while the official coronavirus death toll for the UK passed 80,000 yesterday and lab-confirmed cases hit more than 3 million.

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