Hancock: 'Stronger enforcement of rules needed' with UK at 'worst point of pandemic'

  • Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan

Stronger enforcement of coronavirus restrictions is needed in England, the health secretary has said, warning that Covid-19 hospital admissions are now higher than ever.

Matt Hancock said he is "delighted" that police in England have committed to step up enforcement of lockdown restrictions after reports of people flouting the rules by socialising in parks and using supermarkets without wearing face coverings.

The health secretary told a Downing Street press conference the government would not "rule out taking further action if its needed" but pleaded with the public to follow the current rules.

"The most important thing about the rules is that people need to follow them," Mr Hancock said, but he admitted "stronger enforcement is necessary".

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He added that restrictions are under constant review and the government is "willing to tighten the rules if they need to be tightened", but he ruled out removing support and childcare bubbles.

Mr Hancock said the UK is at the "worst point of this pandemic", with 32,294 people in hospital with coronavirus in the UK - the "highest ever".

NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis, speaking alongside Mr Hancock at the press conference, said there are now 13,000 more Covid-19 patients in hospital than there were on Christmas Day.

Prof Powis said: "Less than a fortnight into 2021 the number of people in hospital with Covid has already gone up by a third, a rise of around 8,000."

He said that infection and death rates remain "stubbornly high" with hospitals under "significant and sustained" pressure.

Covid-19 hospital admissions are 'higher than ever'.

He said that even the South West has more people in hospital now than the entire country combined did at the end of September, and the country has still not seen the full impact of the Christmas loosening of restrictions.

He urged everyone to stick to the rules and "keep focus and resilience" as a country.

It was revealed at the press conference that 2.2 million people in the UK have had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and almost 400,000 of those have had their second.

Covid-19 vaccines take two doses, a number of weeks apart, before they provide full protection from the virus.

Mr Hancock said the UK has protected more people from coronavirus through vaccines than all other European countries combined.

Prof Powis added that, apart from social distancing and Covid-19 safety measures, "these vaccines are the best line of defence that we have as we continue this battle against coronavirus".