Covid: Play your part in fight against virus, says Patel

People have been urged to “play your part” and follow Covid rules by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who says she will back police to enforce laws.

At a No 10 briefing, Ms Patel said a minority were “putting the health of the nation at risk” by flouting rules.

Police are “moving more quickly to issuing fines”, she added, with nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued across the UK.

Another 1,243 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.

And there have been

a further 45,533 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

Meanwhile, another 145,076 people have received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 20,768 a second dose, bringing the totals respectively to 2,431,648 and 412,167.

At the briefing, Ms Patel 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 – they will enforce the regulations.

“And I will back them to do so, to protect our NHS and to save lives.”

It comes after the UK’s most senior police officer said lockdown rule-breakers were more likely to be fined as Covid laws would be enforced “more quickly”.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said her officers had been forced to break up parties, despite hospitals in London struggling to cope with rising patient numbers.

UK daily deaths graphic

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Chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt, who also spoke at the Downing Street briefing, said people should be asking themselves whether their reason for leaving home was “truly essential”.

He stressed that police officers had been “putting themselves at risk in order to keep people safe”, and said it had been “disappointing” to see some of the behaviour by rule-breakers.

He said examples of recent breaches included:

  • a boat party in Hertfordshire with a bar and DJ booth, where more than 40 people had each paid £30 for a ticket
  • a minibus full of people from different households travelling from Cheltenham to Wales for a walk
  • a £10,000 fine in Surrey for the organiser of a party who was trying to claim it was a business event

Mr Hewitt said he made “no apology” for police issuing fines, and warned people breaking rules – such as by organising parties or not wearing face coverings on public transport – to “expect” a fine.

Asked if there needed to be more clarity on the guidance around exercise and staying local, Mr Hewitt said it would be wrong to put a “particular distance” on how far people could exercise from their home – as it would be too difficult for police to enforce.

He said it was right there was an exception to allow people to exercise, but insisted it was the public’s responsibility to make sure they were doing so safely.

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‘Glimmer of hope’

Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

There is a big focus on adherence to lockdown rules. But what has almost gone unnoticed is the fact that cases may have actually started falling.

There has now been two consecutive days where newly diagnosed cases have hovered around the 46,000 mark. Up to the weekend, the average was close to 60,000.

The drop has largely been driven by falls in new cases in London, the south east and east of England.

In some regions, cases are still going up. The north west of England is causing particular concern.

It is too early for the vaccination programme to be having any significant impact, so a combination of the national lockdown on top of the tier four restrictions that were imposed in some areas before Christmas look like they may be beginning to have an impact.

Care must be taken in reading too much into a couple of days’ data.

Hospital cases are still rising – patients being admitted at the moment are the ones who were infected a week or so ago – but it does at least offer a glimmer of hope.

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Coronavirus cases graphic

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Later in the news conference, NHS medical director for London Dr Vin Diwakar said the capital’s Nightingale hospital has reopened and was admitting patients to help with the coronavirus spread.

He told reporters it was taking non-Covid patients to help free up beds in London’s hospitals.

Dr Diwakar warned that if levels of hospitalisation in the capital continued to rise then more patients would need to be transferred out of London, adding that the NHS across the country was under pressure.

In Birmingham, 200 doctors are being redeployed to one of the country’s largest intensive care units as it nears capacity.

The University Hospitals Birmingham Trust said there were 873 patients with Covid-19 in their hospitals, with 125 in intensive care.

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Earlier, crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said people have a “duty” to make this lockdown “the last one”.

“We are urging the small minority of people who aren’t taking this seriously to do so now, and [we say] to them that, if they don’t, they are much more likely to get fined by the police,” he told BBC Breakfast.

Dame Cressida told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the move towards greater enforcement was “common sense” rather than a show of “dictatorial policing”.

Fines start at £200 in England and Northern Ireland, and £60 in Wales and Scotland. Large parties can be shut down by the police, with fines of up to £10,000.

England is currently under a national lockdown, meaning people must stay at home and can go out only for limited reasons such as food shopping, exercise, or work if they cannot do so from home.

Similar lockdown measures are in place across much of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – all of which are in charge of deciding and enforcing their own coronavirus restrictions.

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