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.
Terry Woods, deputy chief constable of Lancashire Constabulary, 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 per 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 in 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 the Lancashire Resilience Forum, which is spearheading efforts to deal with the consequences of coronavirus in the county.
He put Lancashire on notice that his officers would be using whatever powers police forces were given - which have since been confimred as fines, prosecution and arrest.
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 as a 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 and 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, “ said DCC Woods who added 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 said that the 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.
DON’T CALL POLICE FOR ADVICE
Lancashire Police deputy chief constable Terry Woods said that the force was “not the oracle” when it comes to explaining the new movement restrictions to the general public. He urged people not to tie-up the force’s phonelines – and instead look online at the relevant government guidance.
LEADING LANCASHIRE’S BATTLE AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS
A command and control centre staffed by around 30 people has been set up at Lancashire Constabulary’s headquarters in Hutton in order to deal with the impact of coronavirus in the county.
The Lancashire Resilience Forum (LRF) has been “quietly gearing up” its plans in recent weeks, according to its Gold Commander and deputy chief constable of the Lancashire force, Terry Woods.
The possibility of a pandemic is one of the risks to the county that the LRF has long planned for. DCC Woods accepts that the scenario the county is now facing is on a greater scale than had been imagined - but insists that the principles of how to respond to it are largely the same.
“The plans didn’t scale up to this global scale – the [theoretical] pandemics never went to this extent. But it hasn’t really affected the response – even the assumptions around reasonable worst case scenarios are not a million miles away when you apply them.
“Our plan is standing the test of time at the moment and I’m confident that it will [continue to so].”
DCC Woods said that military planners were involved in the preparations – as they are in many other parts of the country – but stressed that there were no plans to put military personnel on the streets.
“They have got some really good skills, along with the police planners, in planning what is going to happen,” he added.
Gary Hall. chief executive of Chorley Council, acts as Silver Commander – overseeing the humanitarian aspects of the response, including the co-ordination of volunteers.
“We are resilient, we are working behind the scenes and are in a good position in terms of getting infrastructure in place,” Mr. Hall said.
The chief executives of all of Lancashire’s other district, county and unitary councils have been nominated Bronze Commanders, responding to specific issues arising from the crisis.
Plans are in place for council chiefs to assist each other across all local authorities, should they be affected by staffing shortages as a result of coronavirus.