FINES for people attending illegal gatherings of 15 people or more during lockdown will increase to £800, the Home Secretary announced this evening.

In a briefing streamed via the BBC, Priti Patel said that the coronavirus fatality figures show that the country is still 'in the grip of a pandemic' and fines for people found repeatedly gathering illegally could rise into their thousands.

She said that she fully backs the police to move quickly to issue fines for people breaching Covid rules and revealed that fines could rise to as much as £6,400 for people who repeatedly flout the restrictions around large gatherings. 

Organisers - as was already the case - will be fined £10,000.

The fines apply to those who attend illegal gatherings of more than 15 people in homes.

The Northern Echo:

Home Secretary Priti Patel speaking at this evening's coronavirus briefing

After explaining that the UK death total from Covid now stands at 94,580 and fatalities jumped by 1,290 since yesterday, Ms Patel said: "Every death is a tragedy and these numbers demonstrate that this country is in the grip of a pandemic."

Ms Patel criticised those who are risking people's lives by organising and attending house parties during lockdown.

She said: "The science is clear."

"Such irresponsible behaviour poses a threat to public health.

"Not only to those in attendance but also the wonderful police officers who shut them down.

The Northern Echo:

"We will not stand by while a small number of individuals put others at risk."

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said official figures will be released next week showing how many fines have been given out since the start of this latest national lockdown.

He told the Downing Street briefing: “Forces are telling us there has been a significant increase, and that’s reflecting the fact that we’ve had more officers out on dedicated patrols taking targeted action against those small few who are letting everybody down.”

The Northern Echo:

Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council

He said since regulations were introduced in late August, and up to January 17, there have been 250 fixed penalty notices issued by forces in England to people who have organised a large gathering.

Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS England regional medical director for London, told the press briefing: “The situation in our hospitals in the NHS remains really precarious.

“In London, more than half of all patients in hospital are being treated for coronavirus and sadly over 1,000 patients died in hospital in London just last week, every single one a tragedy.

The Northern Echo:

Dr Vin Diwakar, NHS England regional medical director for London

“Nationally, there are 34,000 people in hospital and pressure remains intense on our staff.

“We do have hope now with an increasing amount of people vaccinated but we must remain vigilant.

“Stay home, follow the guidance and help us to save lives.”

He said it is “too early to be thinking about the lockdown” but there are “early signs of hope” in pressures easing on aspects of the health service.

Dr Vin Diwakar said: “It is very early but we are seeing some glimmers of the impact of the lockdown in the NHS.

“In our general and acute beds, in 999 and in the 111 service we’ve seen the number of people with coronavirus falling since the last week.

“But that has not fed through to intensive care, the most seriously ill people.

"That is because in this illness people become more unwell at about seven-10 days into the illness, that’s when they deteriorate and go into hospital and may need intensive care."

The increase to the house party fines will come into effect next week.