CoronavirusShould The Police Be Enforcing 'Essential' Journeys or Not?

Should The Police Be Enforcing ‘Essential’ Journeys or Not?

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British Transport Police tweeted an image of their officers at a train station, enforcing ‘essential’ journeys by turning people away and issuing fines to those refusing to comply.

There have been mixed reactions to this. It raises questions and debate about whether or not the government and in this case, Manchester Council is doing the right thing.

Firstly, some think that the government should apply this tougher stance to airports, as there are still thousands of people entering the UK everyday.

Secondly, there are those who welcome this stance, as they believe that this tough stance should deter people from spreading coronavirus, as well as controlling and limiting the spread.

Lastly, there are those who think these actions are symptoms of the British public sleepwalking into a police state.

The Facts

In February 2020, British Transport Police tweeted a photo of some of their officers at Manchester Piccadilly station.

The officers were at all entrances of the station, and were there to ensure that people were not leaving for ‘non-essential’ reasons.

The tweet said, “Today we are helping beat this virus by ensuring only essential travel from Piccadilly Railway Station. Police positioned at all entrances to Piccadilly ensuring only necessary travel. So far around 12 people refused travel for non essential reasons.”

British Transport Police with a seemingly innocent but somewhat chilling post.

It comes after Manchester has taken a tougher stance on people breaking Covid rules in recent weeks.

Greater Manchester Police reported issuing 190 fines in a single week in January, 87 of which were related to house parties.

Councillor Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said [in relation to the house party rules]: “It is extremely frustrating that despite every warning we are still seeing people break rules. I appreciate how difficult it has been for everyone over the past year but this is not an excuse to put people’s lives at risk.

“We have the power to close properties for up to six months and prevent people from entering; this is something we have done before and will not hesitate to do again.”

Make no mistake; the government has crossed a line. I think that this decision is misjudged and quite frightening.

Misjudged, as the government should be prioritising other factors such as controlling international travel, which is a much more urgent matter at hand.

Frightening, for two reasons; firstly because the government should not be arrogant enough to decide which reasons are ‘essential’ and which aren’t, and secondly because it feels as if we are having our basic freedoms being taken away from us, with ‘public health’ being the justification.

To the UK’s credit, the government has introduced new guidelines which outlines what incoming passengers must do in order to self-isolate.

One of those rules includes being compelled by law to self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days. It costs £80 per day, with the costs to be borne by the passengers.

The government seems to be aiming to deter people from travelling to the UK by making it financially difficult for the passenger. £800 extra per trip and 10 days self-isolation seems to be a good deterrent.

I believe that the government should not only have done this sooner, but should take even harsher steps than this by banning all international travel to the UK altogether (aside from British citizens).

The UK still has thousands of non-UK nationals entering the country every day, so it makes me wonder why they waste resources on their own citizens rather than international travellers.

I also believe that there is something particularly Kafkaesque and concerning when the government decides to try and restrict and control the movements of its own citizens, in the name of safety.

It should not be up to the government to decide which journeys are ‘essential’ and which aren’t. The police should be used in a more urgent and practical capacity (such as stopping actual crimes), rather than try and control the movements of its citizens.

We are sleepwalking into a police state and the worst part about this is that there are those who will not only be willing, but practically begging for more authoritarian moves like this by the government, to give them a false sense of security.

In the name of safety, it seems that there is nothing the government can’t take away from a person. The ends will always justify the means.

Analysis by Hamish Hallett

Over the last year or so, the great British public, for the most part, has followed this rhetoric: “Stay at Home and Save Lives”.

As difficult as it is not seeing our loved ones for a very long time or to be able to travel the globe and experience what our local communities have to offer, drastic measures are needed to combat this virus. Coronavirus has taken over 100,000 lives in the UK alone and will take even more lives if we do not clamp down on those who breach the rules. The only way out of this mess is to stay at home and wait our turn for the vaccine. 

Suppose people need to go out of their homes for work that cannot be done at home, go to the shops for food, need medical attention and need to leave an abusive relationship, these reasons are valid and fall within the reemit of essential travel. But those who think that it is perfectly ok to go and travel 200 miles to have a coffee with their mates are not only selfish but incredibly naïve about the current situation.

There is more to this virus than the number of lockdowns this government has put us in, and there are thousands and thousands of cases within our country still. To return to some form of normality, we have to take drastic measures. If these measures include police officers asking us if our travel is necessary, then so be it.

Now is not the time to talk about conspiracy theories that suggest governments across the world are using this pandemic to exercise draconian controls. Instead, this dangerous and life-threatening situation needs stern collective action and togetherness, not individual selfishness and bottomless theories.

Aaron Fenton-Hewitt
Aaron Fenton-Hewitt
Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field. Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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