British police warn of fines over $8,000 for going outdoors without 'reasonable excuse' during third lockdown

Big Ben in London
Big Ben in London | Unsplash/Marcin Nowak

British police have warned the public that they will face a fine of $271 (£200) for going outdoors during the country's third lockdown unless they have a "reasonable excuse," and fines will double for every violation that follows up to $8,675 (£6,400).

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chief's Council, wrote in the comment section of The Telegraph Wednesday that police "will continue to bear down on that very small minority” that “flagrantly and selfishly breach the regulations, such as those that organize unlicensed music events or parties.”

Though several exceptions exist regarding travel restriction and mask-wearing, The Telegraph reported that officers "will not be reasoning with offenders but will impose fines straightaway" unless they have a reasonable excuse. 

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The increasingly tight restrictions in the U.K. have come about as a new and more contagious variant of the virus has been discovered there as well as in Italy and states across the U.S.

New rules state that it's against the law to gather socially with friends and family unless they are in one's "household or support bubble." Regulations also stipulate that people can take an occasion once daily to exercise outdoors near where they live. 

The BBC reported Friday that two women were surrounded by police, read their rights and fined £200 each after driving 5 miles to a reservoir to take a walk. The hot drinks they purchased at a coffee shop were also not permitted as they were "classed as a picnic," police told them. 

"I was so shook up afterwards," one of the women, Jessica Allen, said. "The fact they read my rights. I thought 'Am I going to prison for going on a walk?'

"I'm not a criminal but we were treated as if we were criminals and it really made me feel for those people who are wrongly arrested and questioned by police, because it wasn't a nice situation to be in."

England's new COVID-19 restrictions are especially affecting urban areas such as London where local authorities now say that fewer reasonable excuses exist for people to be away from their homes and police will be more inquisitive about their reasons for being outside. 

A London Metropolitan Police statement warned that when "officers identify people without a lawful reason to be away from home, they can expect officers to move more quickly to enforcement,” and those who do not wear masks will not be reasoned with but fined.

Twenty-one people were arrested Wednesday as a result of the new COVID-19 lockdown rules, including some who were protesting lockdown policies outside the U.K. Parliament. 

“This behavior puts others at significant risk, and it's right we patrol in potential hotspots and that officers are inquisitive when they see something out of the ordinary. This will offer both reassurance to the public and act as a deterrent to those who think the measures don't apply to them,” Hewitt said. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has emphasized the importance of wearing masks, nothing that “your harmless cough can be someone else's death knell.” 

“These measures will only work if people comply,” he explained, noting that “these rules will be enforced by tighter penalties.”

The strict public health measures come as health authorities have begun distributing Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines across the nation, in hopes that life might return to normal in a few months.

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