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Police review communications as COVID-19 plan changes


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Forces are reviewing how they communicate with the public as ministers consider further restrictions.


Cleaning up: Having PPE equipment is a concern for officers 

Date - 16th March 2020
By - Chris Smith

Forces are being advised by the government to plan messaging and communications campaigns “for the weeks and months ahead” as the response to the COVID-19 outbreak is stepped up.

The prime minister will be outlining next steps after a cross-government meeting with Whitehall departments and government agencies this morning including the Home Office, Public Health England, Police and Crime Commissioners and the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

The advice to the public is expected to change and will be shared with chief constables later today.

“We are all working on planning the messaging for the weeks and months ahead,” said the NPCC.

Forces will also have to plan for protecting vulnerable older people if the government asks people aged over 70 to stay at home.

Public order at supermarkets, which have been the focus of panic buying, will be among the issues to be resolved.

Central to ensuring the public responds to the changes will be how the new advice will be communicated through patrol officers, control room operators and social media accounts.

Police leaders are also seeking reassurance from the government that frontline officers will have the right personal protection equipment (PPE).

Forces are playing down the likelihood that they will have to invoke legislation passed at the beginning of the outbreak giving the police greater powers of arrest against people who have the virus but refuse to be treated.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the option would be made available.

"We are going to take the powers to make sure that we can quarantine people if they are a risk to public health, yes, and that's important," he told the BBC. "I doubt that actually we will need to use it much because people have been very responsible."

The change are on response to the increased death toll in the UK which has rise to 21. The number of people to have tested positive for the disease reached 1,140 on Saturday.

Among them was 59-year-old former police officer Nick Matthews, from Nailsea, Somerset who reportedly died at Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early hours of Saturday. Mr Matthews had just returned with his wife from a holiday in Fuerteventura.

He had retired from the force after suffering a heart attack. A former colleague described him as “a true Avon and Somerset Police legend”.

His wife Mary told local media that the rest of his family are now self-isolating: "People who may have come into contact with either Nick or me during the past two weeks need to self-isolate and get advice. I don't want to panic people, but I do want people to take extra precautions."

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