Britain’s coronavirus caseload is likely to worsen over the coming weeks, as a record number of cases was reported for the second day running.
On Tuesday, 53,135 new Covid cases were recorded as well as 414 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Not all data was reported in full over the Christmas period, leading to a lag in some data, but Public Health England said there had been a “real increase”.
There are also more covid-19 patients in English hospitals now than at the peak of the first wave of the outbreak in April.
The health secretary said the NHS was facing “unprecedented pressures”.
Ahead of an announcement on any changes to England’s tier restrictions on Wednesday, Matt Hancock added in a tweet: “We must suppress this virus to protect our NHS & save lives until the vaccine can keep us safe.”
It comes a day after more than 40,000 daily virus cases were announced for the first time in the UK, although it is thought infection rates were higher earlier in the year, before mass testing.
In Scotland, people have been urged to stay at home and not celebrate Hogmanay with other households as daily case numbers hit a record high.
“The scale of transmission is sort of gone up a gear,” said Peter Openshaw, Professor of the Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London.
“We are not grinding along in first or second gear. But we’re off into third now.”
Professor Openshaw said the virus is at the moment “mutating and changing.”
“The vaccines will have to be fine-tuned and adjusted according to whatever strain is most prevalent in the future,” he said.
A scientist called for frontline workers to be vaccinated immediately to enable them look after patients.
Dr David Nicholl, a consultant physician and member of the UK Doctor’s Association said they expect cases to increase significantly really from next week onwards. He said he knew of one hospital where almost a quarter of junior staff had been off sick or on leave.
Almost half of England’s population is under tight restrictions on movement and on everyday life in an attempt to curb the spread.
All vulnerable people in Britain could be inoculated against the coronavirus by late spring 2021, according to the estimates by Simon Stevens, chief executive of Britain’s National Health Service.