express– Home Secretary Ms Patel said police are under strict orders to hand out fines to anyone flouting the rules. She insisted officers would tackle those “putting the health of the nation at risk by not following the rules”. It comes as a senior police chief said people need to “accept the personal responsibility to act properly” to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Ms Patel gave her backing to police action after a Cabinet meeting heard the pandemic had reached a “pivotal moment”.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, the Home Secretary said: “My message today to anyone refusing to do the right thing is simple – if you do not play your part our selfless police officers, who are out there risking their own lives every day to keep us safe, will enforce the regulations.
“And I will back them to do so, to protect our NHS and to save lives.”
Ms Patel said “far too often” police officers were risking their health and lives by “coming into close contact with people, including those who deny the very existence of coronavirus, to keep us all safe”.
She added: “We are now at a critical stage in our battle against this virus. To protect those that you care about, and the capacity of our hospitals to protect us all, please stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Figures showed a further 1,243 deaths were recorded yesterday.
Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate show there have now been 99,000 deaths involving the virus in the UK.
Ms Patel said the horrifying death toll underlined the need for people to follow the coronavirus rules.
She said that while “most of the public” are complying with the restrictions “a minority of people are putting the health of the nation at risk by not following the rules”.
The Home Secretary said: “We are in a pandemic. The British public are absolutely sensible, they are conscientious, they understand the stay at home message. When it comes to staying at home that also means staying local.”
Ms Patel said the lockdown measures in England were under “constant review”.
She added: “In Government, there are endless discussions taking place about the state of coronavirus, support and capacity within the NHS, and also lockdown measures right now.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt accused rule breakers of having “no regard” for the safety of others.
He revealed that police have already issued 45,000 fixed penalty notices to people breaking the measures. Mr Hewitt said recent examples of “irresponsible behaviour” including a boat party with more than 40 guests in Hertfordshire.
He also told of a Surrey house party posing as a business event and a minibus full of people from different households travelling from Cheltenham to Wales for a walk.
He said: “Organising parties or other large gatherings is dangerous, selfish and totally irresponsible in light of the current threat that we face. Organisers will be fined. But so too will the people who choose to attend.
“Not wearing a face covering on a bus or a train is dangerous. It risks the lives of other travellers including those critical workers who must continue to use public transport to do their important work.
“So on those systems, unless you are exempt, you can expect a fine.
“We will carry on engaging with people, that’s how we have done this from the beginning. We will talk to people and we will explain.
“But I think the rules are clear enough for people to understand. We are 10 months into this process.
“People need to accept the personal responsibility to act properly to prevent the spread of the virus.”
The police chief admitted that officers had occasionally made mistakes following a few high-profile cases, including the recent apology from Derbyshire Police to two people fined for travelling five miles for a walk.
He added: “This is unprecedented territory. We are dealing with regulations that are health regulations, highly unusual.
“I think the police service has stepped up really well to deal with that.” There have been “hundreds of thousands” of interactions between police and the public, he said.
Mr Hewitt added: “Sometimes mistakes will be made, but we always have looked at those. We have looked at them quickly, we have dealt with the members of the public concerned and we have said when we have got something wrong.
“That’s been a really important part of how we have dealt with this really difficult 10 months.”
Earlier, Boris Johnson told the weekly Cabinet meeting in Downing Street that the Government could not relent in the battle against the pandemic.
The Prime Minister said: “We cannot take our foot off the pedal.”
The PM’s spokesman said Mr Johnson had “re-iterated the need to bring the transmission rate of the virus down given the pressure that the NHS now faces”. The spokesman said: “The PM highlighted that we are at a pivotal stage of the pandemic and that it is more important than ever that the public stay at home and protect the NHS.
“The PM made clear he believes vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. The Government’s focus is to deploy the vaccine as rapidly as possible. The PM recommitted to vaccinate those at highest clinical risk by mid-February.”
Ms Patel said the Government is looking at prioritising frontline workers for the coronavirus vaccine once the most vulnerable groups have received the jab.
She said: “We are looking at those who are on the frontline such as police officers, teachers and others who are naturally at occupational risk of coming in contact with the virus.
“We are absolutely working to make sure that we can get the vaccine to them but that means working with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.”