As Lancashire residents are warned that police patrols will be stepped up to enforce coronavirus lockdown restrictions over the Easter weekend - but officers in some areas may have their work cut out.
Pictures showing a couple sitting down for a snack in the mid-morning sunshine at the Brickcroft Nature Reserve in Longton suggest that the county’s compliance with the measures is far from universal – and, according to one “disgusted” local, the image does not paint a picture of an isolated incident.
The man, who does not want to be named, said the scene is one which he has witnessed repeatedly over the past week.
“I’ve seen middle aged and elderly couples having picnics – they’ve even brought their own cutlery along. It’s a disgraceful thing to do when NHS staff are going through so much.
“I’m sure they’d say that they were from the same household and were keeping away from anybody else – but that’s not the point.
“They only have to touch the bench and then somebody else goes along and does the same – and before you know it, this thing is being spread,” said the resident, who uses the reserve to take his dog for its permitted daily walk.
He has called for all benches in South Ribble to be taped off to discourage people from taking a seat in the sun.
Meanwhile, Lancashire Constabulary have said that while they will adopt a “proportionate approach” to policing the ongoing restrictions, officers will be prepared to issue fines and make arrests as a last resort.
Ch Supt Sam Mackenzie said: “We know it’s tough, especially at Easter, but it’s vital that people stick with the rules, as they could risk spreading the virus at a time when it is vital to do all we can to contain it and prevent deaths.
“There are lots of nice places to visit in the county – but they will still be there when all this is over.
“Over the upcoming Easter weekend, it’s likely you will see our officers, who are there to keep you safe. They will be taking a common sense approach, speaking both to motorists and those on foot, explaining the rules and encouraging people to follow them.
“Our advice is clear – please stick to the government rules and only leave the house if it’s for one of the reasons set out. By staying home you are protecting the NHS and saving lives.
“Lastly, we would like to thank to the vast majority of people in Lancashire who have been following the guidance, as you are really making a difference to our brave colleagues in the NHS and protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
The force is planning to carry out patrols in areas large and small, urban and rural, right across the county this weekend.
Lancashire’s police and crime commissioner Clive Grunshaw pleaded with residents not to “make our county any more vulnerable to this virus – and please do not put any unnecessary strain on our emergency workers”.
The stay at home message has been echoed by all of Central Lancashire’s councils, with appeals for people to shun beauty spots to which local authorities usually encourage their residents to flock.
“To be clear – all travel to parks by car is inessential,” said South Ribble Council’s cabinet member for the environment, Sue Jones – requesting that locals only visit those areas which they can access on foot for their daily period of exercise.
“This is by no means easy and it’s not something I would ordinarily say to people because I love our green spaces in South Ribble – but there will be a time to enjoy them one day in the future.”
Preston City Council has also reminded residents of the many family activities that they can enjoy indoors this weekend – including Easter egg hunts and an indoor version of the city’s annual Easter egg roll competition which, in more normal times, takes place in Avenham Park.
“Whatever Easter activities you get up to this weekend, let’s make Preston proud by staying home and staying safe whilst doing our best to embrace the Easter spirit,” said council leader Matthew Brown.
And for anybody tempted to travel further afield by train, operators are reminding passengers that their services are currently for use only by key workers or those making essential journeys.
Chris Jackson, regional director at Northern, said: “We are working hard to keep the railway running which, in turn, is helping key workers provide the valuable services we all rely on.
“We now need our passengers to follow government guidance and, where possible, stay at home.”