The lives of thousands more people in Lancashire will be lost to the coronavirus than would otherwise be the case – if the public does not stick to new rules about staying at home.
That was the stark message from the senior police officer in charge of co-ordinating the county’s response to the crisis.
Lancashire Police’s deputy chief constable, Terry Woods, said that officers would be “proactively” enforcing the government’s demand for people to remain indoors other than in a limited number of circumstances.
He said that most people were abiding by the restrictions, but warned that the force would take action against anybody flouting the rules. It is currently permissible to leave home only to buy basic essentials, for a health need or caring responsibility, to travel to and from essential work and to undertake one period of exercise day – all while socially distancing yourself from others.
“If people don’t start listening and behaving in the way the government are instructing, we are going to have thousands more people die Lancashire than we need to. That’s not scaremongering – it’s fact.
“The majority of people are doing what we need them to do, but everybody has got a special excuse not to do things.
“I’m really confident that we have got a good plan – but there is no way on God’s earth we can pull this off if the public don’t absolutely adhere to what they’re being told. The health service will not cope with a significant blip in people requiring ventilation.
“People will die – and that’s just as brutal and plain as it is,” said DCC Woods, who leads Lancashire’s Local Resilience Forum which is leading efforts to deal with the consequences of coronavirus in the county.
He added that he expected police forces to be given powers within days to sanction people for failing to comply with the requirements – and put Lancashire on notice that his officers would be using them.
DCC Woods said that he would be “comfortable” issuing fixed penalty notices to anybody refusing to abide by a request to return home – and said arrest would be an option in the last resort.
“We can’t mess about– this isn’t about tickets or locking people up, we’re trying to get them off the street because they could be spreading a virus that kills people.
“People will be stopped, we’ll be really decent with them – they may get a ticket – but there is no way that they are staying on the street [without a valid reason] and we will take the ultimate sanction.
“If we have to, we’ll arrest them. Let’s hope that never happens…but people need to understand that thousands of lives are at risk.”
Gatherings of more than two people in public are also currently banned and DCC Woods made a special appeal to parents and carers to keep their children under control – and at home.
“The last couple of nights, we’ve had groups of kids and teenagers [congregating]. Parents and carers need to get a grip of their children – it’s not [happening] everywhere, but kids are not exempt from these rules, because they’re equally likely to spread this virus.”
The Lancashire force says that it will be stepping down its non-essential services as the coronavirus crisis escalates, but has moved to reassure the public that it will still be responding to the most serious callouts.
“I’m confident that if you need us, we’ll get to you, “ DCC Woods said, who said that staff absence as a result of the need for people with symptoms to self-isolate was not currently causing the force any major problems.
He added that whole public sector across Lancashire is now working together in the fight against coronavirus.
“We will do what we need to do as human beings to protect people,” he added.
But now communities across Lancashire are also relying on the public to do what they have been instructed in order to protect themselves.