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Lockdown police now face battle against ‘Covid fatigue’

'When I say unmanageable, it’s like pushing water uphill'

30 April, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Borough commander Raj Kohli joins officers on the canalside

A POLICE sergeant has warned that the number of people defying the Covid-19 restrictions by going outdoors unnecessarily is making the job of enforcing the lockdown “unmanageable”.

After another sunny weekend and national debate over when the measures will end, PS John Hounsell, the ward sergeant for Hampstead Town and Highgate, said a growing minority of people appeared to be abandoning the rules.

“We are seeing an unmanageable amount of people breaking regulations particularly in parks like Hampstead Heath, Waterlow Park, Kilburn Grange park and Primrose Hill,” he said.

“And when I say unmanageable, it’s like pushing water uphill. These spaces are being used as if it’s any other day.”

He added: “There isn’t enough of us to deal with the sheer number of people breaching the guidelines. We don’t have the resources to dedicate police officers to one park for a long period of time. Personally I’ve noticed more people on the trains and roads. It feels like people are easing off without being told to do so.”

The government and health chiefs have repeated warned that the lockdown must go on – or the benefits from the first five weeks of restrictions could be lost in a new spike of cases.

“People were happy to do their bit to help, but now they’re getting bored and perhaps overconfident if they haven’t got ill yet,” said PS Hounsell.  “And people will follow each other so, when people start to creep out it will just snowball. There’s been no move to lift the lockdown but people have taken it upon themselves to start going back to normal.”

Police chiefs have noticed busier pavements and more traffic, despite the risk of spreading the virus. Some people are infectious before showing any symptoms.

Superintendent Neil Holyoak, in charge of Camden and Islington’s Covid response, referred to a “Covid fatigue”.

He said: “The vast majority of Camden residents are complying and to put it into perspective around 15 fines a day are being given out which is still much lower than in other boroughs. But we still need to come together and work through this, we shouldn’t risk a situation where the infection rate goes up and lives could be lost. Our plea is please help us.”

Camden and Islington commander Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli said: “It seems people are comfortable being outside again, which could mean people have become desensitised to what’s going on.”

“But there are still two jumbo jets worth of people dying every day. And most who’ve died were infected by people who thought they were social distancing,” he added.

“Even if I did have the manpower to enforce on anyone breaking the rules I wouldn’t want to do that, I want to work with people to help them understand how important it is that they stay home still.”

On Saturday, the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents officers in London, accused the government of mixed messages to the public about what is allowed.

But Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted the government’s messaging had been “clear and consistent from day one.”

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