PRITI Patel has accused a minority of rule-breakers of “putting the health of the nation at risk” as she backed a tougher police approach to the lockdown rules.

Speaking at her first Downing Street press briefing, the Home Secretary said officers were moving more quickly to issue fines where people had clearly breached coronavirus regulations, pointing out that nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices had been issued across the UK since March.

She 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.”

Pressed on whether the rules were tough enough, Ms Patel said: “The rules are clear, the rules are firm in terms of staying at home…the rules are tough enough; you’ve already heard 45,000 fixed-penalty notices have been issued just in the recent time since we’ve been in this pandemic.”

Underlining the need for compliance, she declared: “We urge everybody to continue to follow the rules. The more we do so, the more we can drive this awful, atrocious disease down…Stick with the rules, think about your actions, stay at home, stay local and minimise your social contact and we will get on top of this pandemic.”

The Secretary of State noted how the Government was looking in England at prioritising frontline workers such as police for the coronavirus vaccine once the most vulnerable groups had had the jab.

Martin Hewitt, Chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, added: “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.”

The No 10 press conference took place as:

*the latest figures showed as of Tuesday a further 1,243 people had died across the UK within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing 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, showed there have now been 99,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK;

*health service figures showed 2,347,461 people in Great Britain had received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine;

*the UK Government faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme in England 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 refused to wear a face covering without a medical exemption and

*the Office for National Statistics said 2020 had seen the largest increase in excess deaths since WW2.