People should report their neighbours for any suspected breaches of new “rule of six” limits on social gatherings, the crime minister has said.
Kit Malthouse urged residents to pass on details of suspected law-breaking through non-emergency numbers.
From today, new rules restrict indoor and outdoor gatherings in England and Scotland, and indoor groups in Wales.
They come after the UK’s reproduction, or R, number escalated to between one and 1.2 for the first time since March.
There were a further 2,621 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK on Monday, a fall after three consecutive days with more than 3,000 positive tests – amid widespread concerns about the availability of testing.
Nine more deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether a person should report a gathering of seven or more in a neighbour’s garden, Mr Malthouse said: “It is open to neighbours to do exactly that through the non-emergency number.
“And if they are concerned and they do see that kind of thing, then absolutely they should think about it.”
The crime and policing minister added there were “discussions about what reporting mechanisms there might be, but there is obviously the non-emergency number (101) that people can ring and report issues they wish to”.
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) chairman Martin Hewitt denied that enforcement of the rule of six relied on people “grassing up” their neighbours.
“It relies on all of us being responsible,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We’re part of the group that are trying to explain to members of the public what the rules are and encouraging people to comply with them.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel urged the public not to break the rules, saying the recent rise in cases made it clear more needed to be done to stop the spread of the virus.
And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC he backed the rules, adding: “You can make the argument of why not five or why not six or seven – you have to go with a number backed by the science and they say six, and I think we should abide by that rule.”
Later, it was announced Sir Keir would self-isolate, after a family member showed possible coronavirus symptoms.
Prof Bobby Duffy, director of King’s College London’s policy institute, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One it was “relatively rare” for people to report others, and the crisis had prompted a rise in positive feelings towards local communities.
One in 20 people said in a survey of attitudes during the pandemic that they had reported others for rule breaches.
Prof Duffy said: “It’s still a minority but in terms of numbers of incidents, that’s an awful lot of reporting of your fellow citizens.”
The new rules come in amid reports that the UK’s testing systems are overwhelmed, with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressing ” Serious concern” over what she described as a backlog of results in the lab network.
Alice Wiseman, Gateshead’s director of public heath, said local authorities had requested a mobile testing unit on Saturday, only to see it arrive a day late with dozens of people directed elsewhere for tests.
“We’re not able to do contact tracing unless we have a positive result,” she told the BBC. “In theory, there are potentially people walking around with Covid who just don’t know.”
Doris-Ann Williams, chief executive of laboratory testing industry body the British In Vitro Diagnostic Association, said delays to testing were being caused by a lack of staff and they were “trying to desperately recruit more” to increase capacity for the winter.