Police urge Norfolk people to be 'sensible' as Covid lockdown eases
- Credit: Archant
Police have urged people to be "sensible and cautious" amid fears Norfolk's coastal communities could be "swamped" when coronavirus lockdown is eased next week.
But Norfolk police have said the change away from the 'stay at home' message means they will not be in a position to issue fines purely because people are out and about.
And Norfolk County Council leader Andrew Proctor said it would be a "disaster" if Covid rates in the county were to rise because masses of people congregated on beaches.
While police will have extra patrols in coastal areas, Julie Wvendth, Norfolk Constabulary's assistant chief constable, said the switch to 'minimise travel', rather than 'stay at home' means police enforcement powers would be reduced.
Monday, March 29 is due to be the next stage in the government roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions, with the 'stay at home' instruction eased and people able to meet in groups of up to six outdoors.
While latest figures show coronavirus rates in Norfolk dropped by 23pc in the space of seven days, there are fears that they could rise again once people begin mixing more.
And Miss Wvendth urged people to be cautious and sensible as to where they go - with the easing coinciding with the Easter holidays and forecast good weather.
She said: "From Monday, we won't see stay local guidance from the government, we are likely to see a minimise travel direction.
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"As we have said before, this is guidance and not regulation, so we will not be able to enforce in relation to it.
"We would ask our communities to be sensible and consider if their journey is necessary. There is no definition of local and I would stress the guidance is to minimise travel, so we are asking people to be sensible in their approach.
"After living under strict measures for almost three months, the impeding easing of restrictions will of course come as a relief to many with people able to travel a little further and get outside a bit more.
"However, we must equally acknowledge there will be people who remain fearful about areas in our county being swamped with visitors at a time when social distancing remains vital in helping to prevent the spread of this virus.
“The best way of protecting ourselves and others is to be sensible and cautious. If we all continue to adhere to social distancing guidelines, then as a county we will have the best chance of keeping infection rates and deaths low."
If the government confirms it can move to the next stage of its roadmap, from Monday, it will mean:
- Outdoor gatherings (including in private gardens) of either six people or two households will be allowed.
- Visits to outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts and open-air swimming pools and people will be able to take part in formally organised outdoor sports
- The ‘stay at home’ rule will end, but people should continue to work from home where they can and minimise the number of journeys they make where possible.
- Travel abroad will continue to be banned, other than for a small number of permitted reasons.
Miss Wvendth said: "People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise the number of overall journeys they make, avoiding busy travel times and routes wherever possible."
She said there would be extra police patrols about in the county, particularly over Easter.
She said: "With lockdown rules easing, our policing approach will also adapt to reflect these changes.
"Our approach will continue to follow the 4Es, with officers engaging, explaining and encouraging adherence in the first instance, with enforcement used as a last resort.”
Covid-19 case rates in Norfolk have dropped, down to 30.1 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days up to Saturday, March 20 - a fall of about 23pc on the week before.
The number of outbreaks (defined as two or more linked cases) across schools, colleges, care homes and businesses has also dropped - down to 127 as of Tuesday, March 23, compared to 148 a week ago.
Of those, 21 are in schools, up on 16 the previous week, but not a surprise to public health bosses given the increased testing regime since all pupils returned to the classroom.
As of Tuesday, there were just 20 patients with Covid-19 being treated in the county's hospitals, nine fewer than the previous week.
But Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk County Council's director of public health, said more mixing could see cases go up again.
She said: "Current Covid case rates in Norfolk are 30.1 per 100,000 – which is down 23pc on the previous week.
“That’s really encouraging news but, as we know from last year, the reduction in cases can slow down or rise again as more people mix.
“The way forward is clear – following the rules, accepting your vaccination when you are invited and being tested up to twice a week if you’re going to work, school, college or visiting people in care homes.”
The deaths of four more people who had tested positive for Covid-19 took the number of Norfolk hospital patients with the virus who have died since the start of the pandemic to 1,587.
Mr Proctor said: “This has been a solemn week, as we remember those who have died during the first year of the pandemic.
"But there are clear signs of hope for the future as cases decline and the vaccination programme continues to be successfully rolled out.
“It’s definitely safer to meet people outdoors - but it’s still important that we follow the rules like hands, face, space and avoid making unnecessary journeys.
“The rules are there for a reason – we need to continue to drive Covid rates down, if we’re going to maintain our progress towards a more normal life and avoid the need for future lockdowns."
Mr Proctor said people should consider if it was necessary to travel.
He said: "It's going to have to be a gradual move forward as the road map indicates.
"The key to this is the stay at home message has been dropped, but it's all now about what you can do sensibly.
"We can't stop people doing things, but I think what we're trying to say is 'do you have to?'
"There's going to be time as time goes on to go on more outings to the coast and so forth and now is not quite the time.
"But the other side of it is, how can you say to people you can't do that? It's about common sense and use of judgment.
"I would hate to see the Covid case rate start to rise because of totally inappropriate behaviour.
"If it is a nice day and everyone congregates on the beach that would be a disaster."