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Last night’s announcement that lockdown restrictions will continue for at least another three weeks was not unexpected and is absolutely necessary as we continue to work together to fight Covid-19 and save lives. It’s clear that we risk wasting all of the sacrifices and progress that has been made so far if the measures are relaxed too soon.
Here in Staffordshire, I want to say a big thank you to the vast majority of people who have been following the Government guidelines over the last three weeks. Your response has been extraordinarily positive and is helping to save lives and support carers looking after those in our local hospitals and the community – thank you and let’s keep going. We all recognise that this is a difficult time but it is truly a community effort and each one of us has a vital part to play.
Since the restrictions came into effect, Staffordshire Police officers and staff have engaged with thousands of people across the county and, in most cases, people have been quick to understand and comply. We continue to receive reports each day about people who are not following the rules and we are able to resolve the majority of these incidents through advice and education, rather than enforcement. I am confident that the policing approach and style we have is the right one but we will not hesitate to use enforcement where necessary and this has meant that we have had to issue fixed penalty notices to a small minority of people who, despite the best efforts of officers, have refused to follow the instructions. This puts everyone at risk and undermines the efforts and sacrifices that you are all making and I am confident we have your support to use enforcement when necessary.
When leaving home we need to continue to do what is necessary and reasonable and this includes where we exercise. Now is not the time for people to be travelling to exercise in our rural communities or visit local beauty spots and parks and I am pleased that most people understand and support this. There has been some recent coverage in the media of additional guidance about what may constitute ‘reasonable’ in terms of the new legislation but I am clear this does not change our policing approach in Staffordshire and we will continue to use discretion and good judgement in deciding what is and what isn’t ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances.
The guidance from the government remains that exercise should be done locally, using open spaces near to your home where possible, and people should travel only when necessary and for a short distance. Travelling from other areas, like we have seen some examples of recently, to enjoy the county’s rural areas is not necessary or reasonable. The parks, forests and beauty spots in Staffordshire will still be here when this is over and people will be welcome back when it’s safe to do so.
My colleagues will continue to patrol all areas across the county this weekend and where they come across people travelling unreasonably or people failing to adhere to the social distancing guidelines, they will engage with them, explain the guidance and encourage people to go home, only as a last resort where reason fails, enforcement action will be taken. First and foremost these powers are about keeping people safe and local communities want and expect us to do that, so the most important thing we can all do is continue to stay at home, stay safe and protect the NHS.
Once again, I would like to thank the vast majority of the people of Staffordshire who have been following these guidelines and working with us to help get through this crisis as quickly as possible. We appreciate this is an incredibly challenging time for everybody but we need to stick together and keep going so that we can bring the lockdown measures to a conclusion at the earliest opportunity.
In the meantime, please stay safe and well.