Police have blamed “lockdown fatigue” for a huge surge in coronavirus fines as one of the country’s most senior officers warned the public not to go “silly” when restrictions are finally eased.
Officers in England and Wales are now handing out more than 900 fixed penalty notices every day as a “hardcore” of people continue to flout the rules.
Figures published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) showed that a total of 68,952 fines had been issued since the start of the pandemic, but 26,277 of those came in the four weeks up to Feb 14.
The figures reveal a massive ramping up of police enforcement, even though the vaccine rollout is well underway and the restrictions are close to being eased.
Martin Hewitt, the chairman of the NPCC, said there was still a minority of people who continued to deliberately ignore the restrictions.
He said some were still hosting and attending house parties and in one case police closed down a Birmingham nightclub with 150 revellers inside.
However, he conceded that lockdown “fatigue” had also set in amongst many otherwise law-abiding people, who were simply desperate to return to normality.
He said: “I think it probably is fair to say that, and I’ve used the phrase before, there is no question there is a fatigue in the country, among the population. We’ve been living with this for 11 months, it’s really hard, it’s very restrictive on people’s lives.”
He urged people not to take unnecessary risks in the coming weeks and warned them of the risks of going “silly” when they were finally allowed to visit pubs and meet their friends again.
Mr Hewitt said: “I would just say ‘be sensible and be careful’, if we do this properly then we can get back to having all those opportunities in our lives, whether it is family, work, socialising, whatever it is.”
He stressed that if people were not sensible about the way lockdown is eased they risked reversing all the good work.
“I would really appeal to people to think about that, not to go silly because you can.
“If everyone retains and maintains some of that sense of responsibility that the vast majority of people have demonstrated as we have been fighting the pandemic then hopefully it can be a good experience for everyone and not an experience that is upsetting or unfortunate.”
Among the latest raft of fines handed out were more than 400 to people who had failed to self isolate after returning from abroad.
However, it also emerged that more than 2,500 people required to quarantine had avoided coronavirus fines by giving a false address or failing to answer the door when the police called.
Border Force officials have been collecting the details of returning passengers and a sample of those are routinely contacted by telephone to make sure they are self isolating.
But a proportion are also visited at home by police as part of the enforcement process.
However it has emerged that in 1,124 cases, when officers visited a property they found the person they were checking up on did not live there, so no further enforcement action could be taken.
In another 1,419 cases the person either failed to answer the door or was simply not at home when officers called meaning again no further enforcement action could be taken.
A total of 272 people have been fined £10,000 for holding large gatherings such as raves, weddings and house parties.
And in the two weeks after new £800 fines were introduced for people who gathered in groups of more than 15, a total of 485 fixed penalty notices were issued.
More than 580 businesses have also been fined for a range of breaches, including refusing to close when ordered and failing to ensure customers are wearing face masks.