POLICE now have the power to fine anybody caught breaching the coronavirus lockdown by being outdoors without a valid reason or gathering in groups of three or more people and refusing to disperse.

It comes in the wake of a stark warning from Lancashire's Deputy Chief Constable, Terry Woods, who said that if residents did not adhere to the Government's guidelines about staying indoors then thousands of people will die in Lancashire who didn’t need to.

Under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, police now have the powers to issue fines of £60 for people caught outside without a valid reason, which goes up to £120 for second-time offenders. That fine then doubles for each further repeat offence. Police can instruct gatherings of three or more people to disperse or remove any person from that gathering to their home.

A fixed penalty notice, which cannot be given to anybody under the age of 18, will be halved to £30 if paid within 14 days. Refusal to pay the fine will lead to proceedings at the magistrates court.

On its website, the College of Policing (COP) said: "If a fine is paid, there is no criminal offence committed. We do not seek to criminalise people, but to ensure people follow this life-saving guidance."

Police also now have the powers to close premises and businesses through the service of a prohibition notice.

Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, College of Policing CEO, said: "I want to thank everyone working in policing for their hard work and professionalism during these incredibly testing times.

"The service is adapting to the demands and pressures of responding to Covid-19. The new regulations will enable the police to play their part in the national effort to save lives and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities.

"Keeping everyone safe is, as always, a shared endeavour. Policing will be asking that everyone supports their efforts by staying at home at this critical time."

Within its guidance to officers, the COP said a four-phased approach should be taken to enforcing the coronavirus lockdown.

Officers are first advised to engage with the public and encourage voluntary compliance.

Secondly, they are urged to stress the risks to public health and to the NHS and educate people about the risks and the wider social factors of not following the guidelines.

Thirdly, officers are told to seek compliance and emphasise the benefits to the NHS by staying at home, how this can save lives and reduce risk for more vulnerable people in society.

Finally, as part of the enforcement stage, officers will direct individuals to return to the place where they live. This may include providing reasonable instruction of the route by which the person is required to return. Officers may also remove that person to the place where they live, using reasonable force where it is a necessary and proportionate means of ensuring compliance.

If police suspect there maybe safeguarding issues at play – such as domestic abuse, child abuse or mental health – they are told not to follow the new legislation but to revert to normal processes for dealing with vulnerable people.

Reasonable excuses include: obtaining basic necessities; exercise (once a day); meeting a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions; seeking medical assistance; attending a funeral; moving house; and visiting a place of worship. It also includes caring for or assisting a vulnerable person – defined as anyone aged 70 years or older, someone under 70-years-of-age but with an underlying health condition, or anyone who is pregnant.