Home Secretary Priti Patel has said a minority of the public are “putting the health of the nation at risk” as she backed a tougher police approach to lockdown rules.
Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing on Tuesday, she said that officers are moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations, with nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued across the UK since March.
Chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt said that more officers will be out on dedicated patrols to deal with rule breakers, while Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has also spoken to councils about enforcing the regulations.
Latest figures showed that as of Tuesday, a further 1,243 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, which brings the UK total to 81,960.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 99,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.
The Government also said that, as of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 45,533 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. It brings the total number of cases in the UK to 3,118,518.
Mr Hewitt told the briefing that officers will not “linger” trying to encourage the public to obey lockdown rules.
He said: “It is very clear that we are now at the most dangerous stage of the pandemic.
“There is a real and present risk that our health service could be overwhelmed and people – our friends and family – could die needlessly from this virus.
“So, we must all play a part in stopping that from happening.
“Ten months on, the rules are clear and I urge everyone to abide by them
“With a virus spreading so rapidly through contact with others we should all be asking ourselves whether our reason to leave home is truly essential.
“Those personal decisions are critical.”
He gave examples of recent breaches including a boat party in Hertfordshire with more than 40 people who had each paid £30 each for a ticket, and a minibus full of people from different households travelling from Cheltenham into Wales for a walk.
Earlier, crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said officers would be adopting a new “high-profile” approach to enforcing the rules that could include stopping members of the public to ask why they are not at home.
Britain’s most senior police officer, Dame Cressida Dick, also warned that officers in London will move swiftly to fine people who blatantly ignore the regulations.
Their comments came amid confusion over the distance that members of the public are allowed to travel to exercise, with the Prime Minister sparking debate after going for a bike ride seven miles from Downing Street.
During the briefing Ms Patel herself incorrectly referred to “outdoor recreation” being allowed under the rules, apparently having meant to say exercise.
Leaders of police groups called on the Government to clarify the “incredibly vague” rules, which saw two women incorrectly fined for driving five miles from their Derbyshire homes to meet for a walk.
But Mr Hewitt rejected setting a specific distance that members of the public should be able to travel by law, because it would be too difficult to prove if they had broken the rules.
This came as:
– The latest health service figures showed 2,347,461 people in Great Britain have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
– The Government faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel estimated to contain just more than £5 worth of food.
– Tesco, Asda and Waitrose became the latest supermarkets to take a tougher stance on customers who refuse to wear a face covering without a medical exemption.
– Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that more than 40,000 extra deaths have taken place in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
– NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told MPs the peak demand on the health service may not be reached until early to mid-February.
As a string of supermarkets pledged to get tougher with customers who refuse to wear face coverings, Dame Cressida said her officers would be prepared to assist shop staff if customers became “obstructive and aggressive” when told they must wear a face covering.
Tesco, Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have all outlined a stricter approach to masks in their stores.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said ministers will consider whether key workers such as police, teachers and essential shop staff should be prioritised once the most vulnerable have received the coronavirus vaccine.
Police leaders are pushing for frontline officers to get the vaccine after the highest priority groups have received their jabs.