HOME Secretary Priti Patel said the “horrifying” death toll underlined the need for people to follow the coronavirus rules.

She told today's Downing Street press conference that “most of the public” are complying with the restrictions.

But “a minority of people are putting the health of the nation at risk by not following the rules”.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has spoken to councils “about the role that they have to play in enforcing the rules”, she said.

Police officers were also “moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations”, with nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued across the UK.

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.”

At the press conference the Home Secretary 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.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt has said officers will not “waste time” trying to reason with people who have “no regard” for the safety of others.

He told the press conference that forces across the whole of the UK had issued almost 45,000 fixed penalty notices.

Mr Hewitt outlined a series of recent examples of “irresponsible behaviour” – including a boat party in Hertfordshire with more than 40 people, and a minibus full of people from different households travelling from Cheltenham into 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.”

NHS medical director in London Dr Vin Diwakar painted a grim picture of the coronavirus situation in the capital, as he warned more patients may have to be sent elsewhere.

He told the press conference: “As the pressure from Covid-19 has increased, this has put pressure on the number of beds we have for other conditions.

“That’s why yesterday we opened the Nightingale hospital and admitted our first patients. This time it’s taking patients who do not have Covid and this means that our hospitals have more beds to care for Covid patients themselves and for the very sickest patients.

“But we cannot do this indefinitely, it comes a point where if this infection gets further out of control more and more patients from London will need to be transferred elsewhere.”

He said there is “hope” with one hall of the ExCel centre, where the Nightingale is being hosted, having opened as London’s first mass vaccination centre.

“I can tell you Covid-19 is a horrible, horrible disease that leaves so many, including young people, breathless and gasping for life,” he said after a visit to an east London hospital.

At the start of November, he said, London had 1,000 Covid-19 patients. This increased four-fold to 4,000 on Christmas Day and has doubled to just under 8,000 today, with more than 1,000 of those on critical care.

Ms Patel insisted the coronavirus rules that people need to follow are clear.

Asked why the regulations were not as tough as the first lockdown despite the parlous situation faced by the NHS, she told a Downing Street press conference: “The rules are actually very simple and clear.

“We are meant to stay at home and only leave home for a very, very limited number of reasons.”

Outdoor recreation was permitted “in a very, very restricted and limited way, staying local”.

She added that police had set out “the type of egregious breaches that we will clamp down on”.

Ms Patel said the Government is looking at prioritising frontline workers for the coronavirus vaccine once the most vulnerable groups have received the jab.

“We are looking at those who are on the front line such as police officers, teachers and others who are naturally at occupational risk of coming in contact with the virus,” she told the press conference.

“We are absolutely working to make sure that we can get the vaccine to them but that means working with the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation).”

National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said people needed to take personal responsibility for their actions.

He told the press conference: “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.”

While the regulations had shifted over time it was “very clear what people need to do”.

“People need to accept the personal responsibility to act properly to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Coronavirus restrictions are clear, firm and “tough enough”, Ms Patel has insisted.

She 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… Exercise is important – it’s important for people’s health and wellbeing – and that equally applies to exercise.”

Pressed on whether the rules are 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.”