The policing minister has encouraged people to report their neighbours for not complying with the new “rule of six” coronavirus restriction as it came into force in England.
On Monday, social gatherings of more than six people were made illegal, with people facing fines of up to £3,200 if they do not abide by the measure in indoor and outdoor settings.
Kit Malthouse said concerned neighbours should ring the non-emergency police number 101 to report violations.
“We are in discussions about what reporting mechanisms there might be, but there is obviously the non-emergency number that people can ring and report issues they wish to,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
However, in a briefing to journalists on Monday, Downing Street said officers would not begin imposing fines immediately on those breaking the rules.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “What you would expect to happen is for the police to be out today encouraging people to follow the new rules but in the coming days, if we see people continuing to flout the new rules, it is right that people could face a fine.”
As part of his announcement of tougher coronavirus measures last Wednesday, Johnson also encouraged councils to recruit “Covid marshals” to help enforce them. But on Monday, few councils that responded to a query from the Guardian seemed to have established the roles.
Newcastle city council said it was putting in place a team of officers to work with police to encourage compliance across hospitality venues and residential areas, but other city councils including in Leeds, Sheffield and Derby said they did not yet have Covid marshals.
Leicester city council said while it had been occasionally using external security staff to monitor social distancing in public areas, it had yet to set up a team of Covid marshals. “It is difficult to make firm plans in the absence of detail from the government, not least in relation to funding,” a spokesperson said.
Malthouse’s comments came as the government published the new legislation on social gatherings in full on Sunday night, about 30 minutes before it came into effect.
Under the law, people in England must not participate in a gathering of more than six people in private or public settings unless all the people in the gathering are from the same household, or where a support bubble consists of more than six people.
Exemptions include funerals and organised team sports that are carried out in a Covid-secure manner, including with social distancing being observed. Weddings are also still allowed to go ahead with up to 30 guests, provided they take place at a Covid-secure venue where a risk assessment has been carried out, and not in a private home or garden.
Gatherings of more than six people in work or education settings are exempt from the rules, while places of worship, gyms, restaurants and other hospitality venues can still hold more than six people provided individual groups within them are no larger than six.
In areas affected by partial local lockdowns –including Leicester, parts of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and West Yorkshire – the rule does not apply as people are prevented from socialising with people they do not live with in private and public settings, unless they are in their support bubble.
Following Malthouse’s comments, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) chairman, Martin Hewitt, denied that the enforcement of the rule of six would rely on people “grassing up” their neighbours.
“We all have a responsibility to do what we can do, to take the steps that are required to stop the transmission and to abide by regulations so we can prevent this disease moving further through the country,” he told BBC Breakfast.
The deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Metropolitan police’s response to coronavirus, said officers would be deployed in every borough in the capital to patrol public spaces and respond swiftly to incidents where groups gathered in large numbers. “Where people just won’t listen, and are putting everyone at risk, we absolutely will take enforcement action,” he said.
The new measures follow a spike in coronavirus cases across the UK, with more than 3,000 cases recorded for the third day in a row on Sunday – the first time since May that cases were above 3,000 on three consecutive days.
Previously, people in England were prevented from participating in gatherings of more than 30.