People urged to follow Government's new "Rule of Six" regulations

Police Officer

People across Swindon and Wiltshire are being urged to follow the Government's new "Rule of Six" regulations to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

From today (14/09), it is illegal to meet socially in groups of more than six either inside or outside.

Preventing the spread of the virus is a shared effort and members of the Wiltshire and Swindon Local Resilience Forum (LRF), which brings together emergency services, local authorities and other key agencies, have come together to ensure the public continues to understands the importance of the latest restrictions.

LRF chair Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said the Government had made it clear that everyone needed to take action now to halt the spread of the virus and prevent the need for further lockdown-style measures.

He said: "We all need to continue to take personal responsibility and look at our own actions to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep ourselves and our communities safe.

"The police have been given the powers to enforce this new "Rule of Six" and we will of course issue fines when people deliberately flout the restrictions and fail to comply when spoken to by police officers.

"My officers will continue to be in your communities and engaging, explaining and encouraging people to follow these new restrictions. We will disperse groups of over six and issue fines to those who refuse to comply. In most situations, officers can resolve breaches without having to issue a fine.

"As I have made clear from the beginning of the pandemic, we police by consent and we rely on the support of the public when upholding the law set by the Government. "The demands on the police service are now back to pre-Covid levels making it even more important that everyone takes personal responsibility so police involvement is a last resort.

"I know that the vast majority of people understand the importance of these restrictions and want to do everything possible to avoid a second lockdown - so I would urge you all to take these rules seriously and do your bit stop the spread of Covid-19."

There are a number of exemptions to the new law - for a full breakdown of these, visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus

Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon Angus Macpherson said: "These new restrictions have been set by the Government and it is now my job, along with the Chief Constable and police officers in our communities, to engage with the public to ensure they understand their importance.

"I have spoken to the Chief Constable and it is clear that Wiltshire Police will, as they always have done, focus on community engagement to explain the rules and encourage people to follow them.

"However, the Government has given police forces the powers to fine those who wilfully and deliberately decide not to comply, and officers will be doing this when necessary.

"The fact that so few Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) have been issued in our county over the last few months should not indicate that officers here are a soft touch - they have focused on engagement and education. But, let me be clear, if people deliberately ignore the rules and risk their health and the health of others, Wiltshire Police will take action."

Kate Blackburn, Director of Public Health for Wiltshire, said: "At this time it is vital that people continue to be as responsible as possible and keep playing their part. Together, Wiltshire's communities have been doing so well and sticking to the guidance and that's helped the virus rate stay under control in Wiltshire.

"We want everyone to keep regularly washing hands, maintaining social distancing and wear face coverings where appropriate - this will give everyone the best possible chance of staying safe."

Councillor David Renard, Leader of Swindon Borough Council, said: "The local community has responded tremendously to our 'Swindon: It's up to all of us' campaign and that is reflected in our COVID-19 case rate having fallen significantly in recent weeks.

"However, we must not rest on our laurels and it is crucial we do not throw away all of that work and the tremendous sacrifices that have been made. We all have a duty to follow the new government guidelines on gatherings made in the wake of the country-wide rise in cases, but we must also keep up with the basics of wearing face coverings in enclosed indoor spaces, maintaining social distancing at all times and continuing to wash our hands for at least 20 seconds."

Tracey Cox, Chief Executive, Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG, said: "Over the last few weeks, our region has seen just how unpredictable coronavirus can be, with localised outbreaks happening in Swindon and Devizes, as well as in more rural communities.

"To get a firm grip on Covid-19, and to ensure our local healthcare services have capacity to manage any future spikes in cases, we all need to respect these new rules and to follow the guidance that has come to underpin all our lives over the last six months.

"By carrying on with social distancing, keeping up good hand hygiene and wearing a face covering in public places where other people may be, we can all help to reduce the risk of coronavirus harming even more of our friends, loved-ones, neighbours and colleagues."

Dorset & Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service Area Manager Seth Why said: "We are urging the public to take personal responsibility and abide by the new regulations that come into force today.

"Our staff and communities have really come together over the last six months to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic. With numbers creeping back up again across the UK, it's more important than ever that the public work with local services and the government to protect themselves, their friends and families and key workers. We need the public to help us keep all our communities safe from Covid-19."