Clamping down on lockdown rule breakers will get coronavirus back under control, Priti Patel said.
The Home Secretary acknowledged that the number of coronavirus cases was still too high and warned people that their “actions have consequences” as she urged them to comply with the legislation or face a fine.
But she said tougher lockdown measures were not needed to get the R number – the reproduction rate of the virus – down below one.
The R value is currently estimated to be around 1.2 to 1.3, meaning that every 10 people with coronavirus will infect 12 to 13 more.
Asked if that meant existing rules were not having an impact and tougher measures would be needed, Ms Patel said: “No, the focus has to be on compliance and enforcement of the regulations and the rules as they stand.”
She told the PA news agency that officers had been tackling people breaking the law, including by holding house parties and illegal raves – unlicensed musical events (UMEs).
“You can only leave your home for a limited number of reasons and police are enforcing that rigidly, stringently across the country,” she said.
“That has been illustrated in the number of fines over the weekend, in the last week, the number of house parties, UMEs and also members of the public who have been spoken to by the police.
“That will continue and actually it’s by enforcing the rules, the public following the rules, that we will get the R value down.”
Ms Patel added: “Actions have consequences. We want to get the R value down, we want fewer people in hospital, we want less pressure on the NHS.
“We have got heroes in the NHS right now working very hard to save people’s lives and we have got heroes in frontline policing working hard to keep people out of hospital, stopping the spread of this virus.”
The Home Secretary was speaking to reporters outside St Thomas’s Hospital in central London, the scene of a New Year’s Eve demonstration by anti-lockdown protesters.
Ms Patel suggested people taking part in similar protests would face police action.
“Absolutely, without hesitation,” she said. “When you look at the pressures on the NHS – and we have been saying this for too long, quite frankly – the public need to take responsibility, act conscientiously, wear their masks, wear face coverings, follow the rules, follow the regulations.
“I can’t emphasise that enough.”
Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Matt Twist said the vast majority of people were complying but “the tiny minority, the selfish few, are intent on breaking the rules” – including by “recklessly” holding house parties.
“There’s a different approach to two people who might accidentally be breaching (the rules) to what we saw this weekend where we have had house parties of 80 people,” he told PA.
“People know that when they are arranging these sorts of things they are placing others at risk, they are placing themselves at risk and they are placing their whole communities at risk.
“So it is entirely right that the Met is there to step in and take enforcement action.”