Police say they will only use enforcement action as a last resort if people are found flouting the new restrictions in the North East.

Tougher lockdown-style measures came into force across the region on Friday to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Under the new rules, which apply to Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham, residents are being told not to socialise with anyone outside of their own household or support bubble – indoors or outdoors.

There are also new limits being imposed on pubs, restaurants and other food and drink premises – which will be restricted to table service only.

People who break the restrictions could face fines, and police officers and councils will be able to take action including asking people to disperse and handing fixed penalty notices starting at £100 for those who participate in illegal gatherings.

The fines can be £100 for the first offence, lowered to £50 if paid within 14 days, and £200 for the second offence, then doubling for each further offence up to a maximum of £3,200.

However, police say that enforcement will be a last resort and officers will first try to engage with groups of people, educate them about the restrictions and encourage them to disperse.

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Supt Steve Long, of Durham Constabulary, said: “The Government has announced that further local restrictions are necessary in addition to those already in place nationally.

“We would like to thank the vast majority of people who have taken personal responsibility, done the right thing and stuck to the guidance over the last few months.

“Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the new regulations and encourage people to act responsibly - only then will we move to enforcement as a last resort."

Assistant Chief Constable Neil Hutchison, of Northumbria Police, added: “These local restrictions are being introduced in addition to the nationwide rules that came into place on Monday.

“It is extremely important that everyone understands them and shows personal responsibility in following the restrictions – we all have a part to play in keeping each other safe.

“Given the many demands already faced by our local and emergency services, by adhering to the regulations everyone can help ensure vital resources are not being diverted to situations which could easily be avoided.

“However, as we have previously made clear, where it is proportionate for us to do so we will respond to people breaking the rules, with any reports we receive assessed to determine the most appropriate course of action.

“We will look to engage with people in the first instance, explaining the restrictions and encouraging them to follow the regulations. However, where necessary, we will take enforcement action.

“As our Chief Constable said earlier this week – this really is a time when everyone has a role to play and we must do everything we can to protect the communities that make this the fantastic region that it is.”

Anyone reporting breaches of the coronavirus legislation is asked to do so through the police websites or by calling 101.