Devon and Cornwall Police says enforcement of the new coronavirus rule of six will be a ‘final option’.
The force said today (Tuesday, September 15) that officers will disperse indoor or outdoor gatherings that breach the regulations.
And those who refuse to comply could be hit with a £100 fine.
New government legislation that came into force on Monday make it illegal for groups of more than six people to gather socially.
Assistant Chief Constable Glen Mayhew said: “Preventing the spread of Covid-19 is a shared effort and police will play a part alongside the Government, businesses, hospitality owners, local authorities and others.
“The change to Covid-19 legislation, and subsequent change in the law, means everyone has a legal responsibility to play their part and not gather in a group of more than six people.
“The new rules are clear. We all have a personal responsibility for following them to help stop of the spread of a deadly virus.”
Devon and Cornwall Police says its approach will be engagement, education and encouragement, with enforcement ‘a final option’.
There are some exceptions to these rules – including if everyone in the group is a member of the same household or two linked households.
The new regulations do not refer to schools or other childcare, education or training, the workplace, for voluntary charitable purposes or providing support to a vulnerable person.
They do apply to the majority of public spaces, whether indoors or outdoors.
Gatherings of more than six, but no more than 30, may be permitted at weddings or civil partnerships, funerals and other religious or belief-based ‘life cycle’ ceremonies.
Police will have the ability to issue an on-the-spot £100 fixed penalty notice which can rise to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offending.
Assistant Chief Constable Mayhew added: “Demands on Devon & Cornwall Police, and the police service in general, are back to pre-Covid levels, making it even more important that people respect the change in the law and take personal responsibility.
“I hope that we do not need to enforce the legislation as people understand the importance of the measures to keep us all safe.
“In the circumstances where police do engage with a group, I hope they all disperse and we do not need to issue a fine, but the powers are there should officers need them.
“The pandemic has not gone away and everyone must play their part to protect themselves, their families and our communities.
“I know we are seeing large numbers of younger people returning to universities in our region and campus life is likely to be very different with these measures.
“The work of universities and student groups to prepare for the year ahead highlights how we can all adapt.
“But I would ask everyone to respect yourself, others and comply with the law to make Devon and Cornwall a safe place for all.”
A force spokesperson added: “If members of the public are concerned that the law is being broken or they are experiencing anti-social behaviour, they can report this to Devon and Cornwall Police.
“We will consider the most appropriate response and will target the most problematic behaviour.
“Reports should be made through online reporting wherever possible via https://www.devon-cornwall.police.uk.”
Full details of the Government guidance can be found here.
The force’s frequently asked questions page is also updated regularly.
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