Boris Johnson has warned that even tougher coronavirus restrictions could be introduced if the national lockdown is not “properly observed” by the public.
The prime minister said the rules would be kept “under constant review” after England’s chief medical officer said the NHS was entering its “worst weeks of the pandemic”.
Professor Chris Whitty said the UK had a “serious problem” with infection rates with the number of instances of the new variant “rising in every part of England”.
On a visit to a vaccination centre in Bristol on Monday, Johnson said if the current rules were followed they could make a “huge difference” in suppressing the virus.
But he added: “We’re going to keep the rules under constant review. Where we have to tighten them, we will.”
He added: “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.
“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.”
He added: “Everybody should be asking themselves whether they need to be leaving home, whether they need to be doing something that could actually end up spreading the disease.”
Johnson also announced around two million people had so far been given the coronavirus vaccine across the UK.
But he warned the public against “false complacency” because the vaccine is being administered.
The government has set a target of having 15 million people vaccinated by mid-February, with every adult in the UK vaccinated by autumn.
Whitty told the BBC: “What we need to do before the vaccines have had their effect – because it’s going to take several weeks before that happens – is we need to really double down.
“This is everybody’s problem, any single unnecessary contact with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person.
“We’ve all got to, as individuals, help the NHS, help our fellow citizens, by minimising the amount of unnecessary contacts we have.”
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, suggested tougher rules should be imposed “in the next 24 hours” as the numbers were “heading in the wrong direction”.
Amid a sharp rise in infections and deaths, Starmer said government scientists should “in the next few hours” set out what further lockdown measures are needed.