People who break coronavirus rules are “increasingly likely” to face fines as cases and deaths continue to soar, Britain’s most senior police officer has warned.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said it is “preposterous that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus”.
Writing in The Times, she said: “We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines.”
The government refused to speculate on any tightening of lockdown restrictions on Monday, but warned that the NHS is under “very significant pressure” as it tries to keep up with spiralling hospital admissions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to clarify that buying a hot drink and going for a walk with a friend is within the rules, but urged people to cut any social contact that is “not absolutely strictly necessary” to keep cases down.
The latest figures show there were 32,070 coronavirus patients in hospital in England as of 8am on Monday, which is up 81% since Christmas Day.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, stressed that means there are 13,000 more patients in hospital beds with COVID-19 than there were just over a fortnight ago.
He warned that while 2.3 million people have now been vaccinated, injections “are not a free pass” to break the rules.
And it will not be until February at the earliest that we start to see the effects of the vaccine bringing infections down, he added.
With England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also claiming the UK is at its “worst point” of the pandemic so far, ministers are considering how they can reduce cases further.
Supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have said they will refuse entry to anyone not wearing a facemask.
And banning exercise with anyone outside your household and increasing the two-metre social distancing rule are also among the measures under consideration.
On Monday, the government removed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from its travel corridor list in response to rising cases in Dubai and other emirates, requiring passengers to self-isolate for 10 days on their return to the UK.
From 4am on Friday, almost anyone who arrives in England by plane, boat or train will also have to prove they have tested negative for the virus within the previous 72 hours.
They will then have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their result, transport minister Robert Courts said.
There will be fines of £500 for anyone who breaks the new rules, he added.
In North Yorkshire over the weekend, police officers handed out more than 70 fines for rule breaches, including several house parties.
They were also forced to come to the rescue of a couple from Rochdale who got stuck up a mountain in Ingleborough on Sunday afternoon.
North Yorkshire Police Superintendent Mike Walker said: “We very clearly advised members of the public this weekend to stay at home and when taking exercise, stay local to stop the spread of COVID.
“Quite simply driving miles and miles, out of your village, town or city to visit an open space is not a necessary journey and is not acceptable.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson caused confusion after the Evening Standard reported he was spotted seven miles from his Downing Street home cycling in the Olympic Park in east London.
His health secretary later suggested this was within the rules when asked about it at a Number 10 news briefing.