As the government's 'enforcement week' rumbles on, Priti Patel addressed the nation on Tuesday evening over the need for the public to play by the rules. While the Home Secretary was keen to praise the vast majority of people who have followed the lockdown rules so far, she said a minority were 'putting the health of the nation at risk' by flouting the restrictions.
With the daily death toll at 1,243 (the number of people who have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test in the UK), Patel stressed that the pandemic was at a very dangerous point and everyone would need to play their part — whether voluntarily or not. The Home Secretary warned that those who 'do not play [their] part' will be dealt with by 'our selfless police officers — who are out there risking their own lives every day to keep us safe'.
In the Q&A session that followed, Patel was repeatedly asked whether the current restrictions were tough enough — even if everyone followed them. She said restrictions were tough enough but would not get drawn into why this lockdown is less strict than the one in March. However, the tone of the conference points to the government's priorities. While tighter restrictions have been discussed, there is a reluctance to bring in new measures before the current ones have had a chance to work.
Ministers would rather drive up adherence of existing rules than add new ones. This is in part behavioural — exercise limits, bans on mixing with others in parks and curfews could be harder to police, while some have suggested increased stringency may reduce adherence overall. It's clearly preferable to have the public voluntarily abide by the current measures.
There's also another factor at the play. For all the focus on the exercise habits of Britons across the country — including Boris Johnson's seven mile bike ride — the feeling among some in government is that the things that will have a bigger effect on the R number relate to the number of key workers using schools, how retail shops are operating and workplace practises. Changes in these areas, however, are more politically difficult than warnings on takeaway coffees.