As police used drones and roadblocks to enforce rules against non-essential travel, they were yesterday given new powers to arrest and fine anyone guilty of ignoring the lockdown.
Officers can now issue on-the-spot £60 fines, with the amount doubling for each repeat offence.
Magistrates can then impose unlimited cash penalties on those who fail to pay.
Announcing the powers, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The Prime Minister has been clear on what we need to do: stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives.
“That’s why I’m giving police these new enforcement powers, to protect the public and keep people safe.”
As her announcement was made, extraordinary steps were being taken to enforce the social distancing rules.
In the Peak District, police used a drone to collect number plates from parked cars and trace their owners. Spotting walkers, they tweeted: “Walking your dog in the Peak District: Not essential.”
They added: “Some number plates were coming back to keepers in Sheffield, so we know that people are travelling to visit. Daily exercise should be taken locally to your home.”
In North Yorkshire, police carried out spot checks near Harrogate.
North Yorkshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Mike Walker, said: “The message is clear and the warning stark. Stay at home, save lives.”
The force said the checkpoints could appear anywhere, any time.
Road-blocks were also set up in Plymouth, Devon, while in Cornwall 150 vehicles were checked in Penzance, Hayle, and St Ives.
In Shepherd’s Bush, West London, police were seen telling sun worshipers to go home. And at Cardiff railway station passengers were asked for proof of travel plans.
Tourists in campervans and caravans are barred from entering the Lake District. Cumbria Police said the crisis is “no excuse for a holiday”.
On Tyneside, Northumbria Police stopped a football game, the players breaking the rule of only two people together at a time.
A family of five who travelled from Merseyside to Llanfairfechan, Conwy, for a day at the beach were ordered back home.
And bikers who gathered at a cafe in Llandovery, Carmarthenshire, one of them travelling 120 miles from Birmingham, were filmed being told to “disappear” by a local.
Sgt Ian Price said: “No longer will this type of social gathering be tolerated.”
In Coventry, police had to break up a house party, sending eight revellers home. A party in Birmingham was also shut down.
A spokesman for the Big Brother Watch civil liberties group questioned the new police powers. He said: “Arbitrary policing will not help the country to fight this pandemic.”
But as police powers were stepped up, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries yesterday said the UK could be face some “measures of lockdown” for the next six months.
Along with enforcing the lockdown, police and prosecutors are warning of tough action against anyone who deliberately coughs at emergency workers while claiming to have the coronavirus.
Such assaults could lead to two years in jail. Coughs directed as a threat towards other key workers or the public could be charged as common assault.
Darren Rafferty, 45, of Dagenham, East London, has admitted “coronavirus coughing” at officers. He faces sentence next month.
David Mott, 40, was jailed for 26 weeks after threatening to spit at police in Blackburn, Lancs, and in Hull, teenagers spat on an RSPCA officer.
Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “This is a crime and needs to stop.” John Apter, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said this “vile minority” should face tougher penalties.
Meanwhile, Edwin Hillier, 84, became the first prison inmate to die of Covid-19, after dying on Sunday.
As of Wednesday, 19 inmates had tested positive across 10 jails, and four prison staff had tested positive across four jails, along with three prisoner escort and custody services staff.