THE county's police and fire commissioner has stressed the importance of people staying at home to save lives and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Roger Hirst said the police are appealing to the public's "better nature" to remain at home, but warned that officers will fine people who flout the law, if they have too, after being given additional powers.

Mr Hirst spoke out after talking to policing and fire service minister Kit Malthouse.

Mr Hirst said: "“Firstly, it is important to stress these powers are around making sure that people conform to the social distancing rules, stay home and save lives.

"The police’s initial response is going to be to encourage people to go home, make sure that they get the right advice and appeal to their better natures.

"Only then will we be seeing them issuing fixed penalty notices, which start at £60 but can rise to nearly £1,000 for such offences.

"The other powers are to disperse people and use reasonable force to take them home – again intended to make sure that we acknowledge the social distancing rules and to stay home and save lives.

“I think it is also worthwhile mentioning, that we talked about the logistics problems around protective personal equipment.

"We know there are issues there, but I received a good assurance that those issues are being solved and equipment is on its way. We can also certainly find some local solutions too.

“I can also tell you that our victim support services are still working as they should be, that is obviously something that we needed to work on and make sure that we support the voluntary sector.

Mr Hirst welcomed the Fire Brigade Union's decision to let its members drive ambulances and also deliver vital medical supplies as well as delivering medication to vulnerable people.

He added: “We have to recognise that things have changed in the last couple of weeks, but I can assure you that the police service and fire and rescue service are working well.

"We have got as much resource focused on the front line as we can have and we are still providing the same service in terms of keeping vulnerable people safe, in terms of responding and putting out fires and, of course, catching criminals.

The commissioner said the county's special constables put in 4,600 hours of work in the last week – 1,000 hours more than in the same week last year – nand made 69 arrests.