THE chief constable of Dorset Police has warned people who breach strict restrictions on leaving home could be prosecuted.

James Vaughan described the measures introduced on Monday , including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people, as “some of the most far-reaching curbs on our personal freedom”

But he said they were necessary to save lives and warned breaches would lead to “positive police action and potentially prosecution”.

The rules introduced nationwide to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus also restrict people to leaving the home for exercise just once a day, to travelling to work only when “absolutely necessary”, to shopping for essentials and for medical or care needs.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said it was a time of “national emergency” and the measures were to help reduce demand on the NHS.

Mr Vaughan said there was still “some confusion” among the public about the rules but that he hoped this would soon be eliminated.

"British policing is founded on the consent of the public,” he said. “I am therefore asking you all to do the right thing for everyone and stay at home.

"We all need to pull together and I am confident that you will all listen and abide by these very simple rules.

“We owe it to our loved ones, our friends, colleagues and neighbours to keep people safe and well.”

He said there had been a “demonstrable fall” in crime reported in the county in recent weeks, particularly from the “evaporation” of night-time incidents in Bournemouth and the closure of most retail businesses.

However, he still urged people to “think carefully” before reporting more minor issues to protect its capacity to deal with serious crime.

Eight per cent of Dorset Police’s workforce is already self-isolating with the figure expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

Emergency powers are expected to be given to police forces to enforce the restrictions but he said he hoped they would not be needed in most cases.

He added: “Whilst we will adopt a caring, compassionate and respectful approach to the new government direction, I must warn people that non-compliance of these reasonable and necessary restrictions will ultimately lead to positive police action and potentially prosecution.”