Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pleaded with the public to follow coronavirus rules as new figures show nearly 2.3 million people in the UK have had a vaccine jab.
Mr Hancock said the new variant of coronavirus is “highly contagious and it is putting the NHS under very significant pressure” as he addressed a Downing Street briefing.
He echoed comments made earlier by England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, saying “we’re at the worst point in this pandemic”.
And he added: “The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now – and that something is to follow the rules.
“I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don’t rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.
“Stay at home, and please reduce all social contact that is not absolutely strictly necessary. That’s what is needed: act like you have the virus.”
New figures show the number of people in the UK to have been given a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is nearly 2.3 million.
Some 78,005 first doses have been given in Northern Ireland, on top of the 1,959,151 in England, 86,039 in Wales and 163,377 in Scotland – to give a UK total of 2,286,572.
So far, 388,677 second doses have also been given.
Mr Hancock said vaccination was the “fastest route to safely lifting restrictions” and the Government was on track to vaccinate the 15 million people most at risk by middle of February.
He said two fifths of over-80s have now received their first dose, while almost a quarter of care home residents have received theirs, with a commitment to reach all residents by the end of January.
He also ruled out removing support or childcare bubbles.
NHS England’s national medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, told the briefing that vaccination would gradually lead to a drop in people in hospital.
“But we are not going to see it now,” he said. “We are not going to see it next week or the week after.
“It won’t be until we get to February that we are going to see the early signs of that.
“The vaccination programme gives hope but to battle the virus today, we have to comply with the guidelines today.”
Earlier, Boris Johnson warned that tougher lockdown measures may be needed as he stressed “now is the moment for maximum vigilance”.
It comes amid increasing calls for tougher lockdown restrictions – including from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – as case rates soar in several parts of the country.
During a visit to a vaccine centre in Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol, the Prime Minister said: “We’re going to keep the rules under constant review.
“Where we have to tighten them, we will.
“We have rules in place already which, if they are properly followed, we believe can make a huge, huge difference.
“It’s now that people need to focus… when they’re out shopping, whether they’re buying cups of coffee in the park or whatever it happens to be, they need to think about spreading the disease.”
Mr Johnson said that “more important than us just pushing out new rules”, people should follow existing guidance.
“In supermarkets, people need to be keeping their distance, making sure that they’re wearing masks, doing the right thing.
“We need to enforce the rules in supermarkets. When people are getting takeaway drinks, in cafes, then they need to avoid spreading the disease there, avoid mingling too much.
“Now is the moment for maximum vigilance, maximum observance of the rules.
“Of course, if we feel that things are not being properly observed then we may have to do more.”