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Police given powers to enforce social distancing rules ‘as early as today’

Image credit: PA

Police given powers to enforce social distancing rules ‘as early as today’

The Scottish Government will empower police “as early as today” to enforce social distancing rules to stop the spread of coronavirus, the First Minister has announced.

During her daily press briefing on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said the number of people in Scotland who have tested positive to COVID-19 had risen by 175 from yesterday, to 894 cases in Scotland, and another three people had died, taking that to a total of 25 deaths.

However, Scotland's Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said: “We’re probably looking at the order of 40,000 to 50,000 people in Scotland who are now infected with coronavirus.”

The FM said, since Westminster had passed the Coronavirus Act yesterday, the Scottish Government “now has the power to make regulations to enforce the social distancing measures that were announced on Monday”.

“We are now preparing regulations to give to police in Scotland… colleagues in the UK Government are doing the same, and we expect these regulations to be enforced as soon as possible – perhaps as early as today,” she said.

“The regulations give us power to enforce rules which most people are now following anyway.”

The FM said the regulations will give police enforcement powers including: requiring that social distancing is enforced by businesses and premises which have to stay open; enforcing the rule that there should be no public gatherings of more than two people except when these people live together, “other limited circumstances such as responding to an emergency” or another essential work purpose.

“They will also enforce the restrictions on people staying at home,” she said.

“It will now be a rule that you should only be outside for a reasonable purpose, buying food or essential household and medical supplies, travelling to or carrying out essential work, exercising once a day or providing care or assistance to others.”

She said those caught flouting the rules would be “directed to return home or made to return home” by police, but they could also be subjected to prohibition notices. If those notices are not followed “they could be liable to an on-the-spot fine and, ultimately, if necessary, prosecuted”.

The FM said these regulations would be reviewed “at least once every 21 days” and removed as soon as it is safe to do so, however the legislation itself will last for a maximum of six months.

“I recognise how unusual and out of character these regulations are, but they will have important safeguards,” she said.

“These regulations would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago, but they are essential to tackle the virus.”

Additionally, Sturgeon announced 1.5 million protective masks had been sourced from NHS Scotland’s national stockpile. She said the masks had expired but had now undergone “extensive testing” which showed they were fit for use. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman told the briefing the masks had expiry dates of June and August 2019, but had been independently tested to ensure they can still be used.

Calderwood urged people not to be tempted to see people from other households this weekend, but said it is important that everyone gets out to exercise once a day.

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