Residents in Dorset are in support of firm police action to enforce the 'rule of six' and other measures to stop the spread of coronavirus - but people are being urged not to 'overreact' to the situation.

County police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill says early indications from a public poll back the police taking a tougher line with those who flout the rules.

He told a meeting this week that the majority of 1,300 people who had responded so far favoured firmer action.

“It’s early days but 56 per cent of those who have responded so far feel the force should take a tougher line…it also shows the public has supported what we’ve done in the past but now want to see stronger enforcement,” he told the cross-county police and crime panel.

Mr Underhill said that if people wanted to report breaches of the ‘rule of six’ they should, where possible use the 101 online system, but he said that he did not want people to over-react and that the area still had one of the lowest risks of Covid in the country so the police response was likely to be proportionate.

Despite this, calls for anti-social behaviour had already increased by around 15 per cent, mostly from people reporting Covid breaches.

He said he expected calls would be only dealt with in order of seriousness with officers generally turning out only to more serious breaches, usually where there was an element of anti-social behaviour as well, rather than where families might have an extra relative around.

Mr Underhill said many elderly people and those with medical conditions felt genuinely threatened by people not wearing masks where they should and being too close to each other. He said their actions justified them being categorised by the police as anti-social behaviour and being taken seriously.

He said that so far there has been few calls in Dorset about breaches of the ‘rule of six’ and that it was unlikely that Dorset police would be handing out many fines although flagrant breaches would be dealt with.

He said although the current guidelines were clearer there remained some uncertainty over several issues, one of which was fox hunting and charitable gatherings.

Independent panel member Iain McVie said he was concerned that a large number of fines had been rejected by the courts when appealed, or not taken forward by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The commissioner said that although the majority of fines had been paid in Dorset there was a higher than normal amount of non-payment compared to other fixed penalty fines.

The commissioner said police operations in Dorset have now largely returned to ‘business as usual’ after a period of disruption caused by the pandemic and uniformed officers and staff were well placed to deal with the coming winter months and the challenges that might bring.