Watch: Matt Hancock tells people in Tier 4 to behave like they already have the virus
Matt Hancock has suggested the stricter Tier 4 coronavirus rules could remain in place “for a couple of months”.
The health secretary urged people in Tier 4 areas to take the new measures seriously and “act as if you have the virus” to prevent it from spreading.
It follows Boris Johnson’s press conference on Friday during which he announced that people in London and the south-east would be subject to “stay at home” orders after a rapid rise in cases in the region.
"What is really important is that people not only follow them [the new rules] but everybody in a Tier 4 area acts as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people," Hancock told Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.
He added that the new strain of COVID was causing cases to rise much faster than before, and said strict social distancing could be in place for “the next couple of months”.
"All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant. That is the fundamental problem,” he said.
"We know that because we know that in November that in the areas where this new variant started, in Kent, the cases carried on rising whereas in the rest of the country the November lockdown worked very effectively.
"It is an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months."
Hancock said that the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination programme is accelerating, and that 350,000 people had received the vaccine so far.
"The numbers are accelerating and rising fast,” he said. “As of eight o'clock yesterday morning 350,000 people have been vaccinated.
"We plan by the end of the weekend to have something around the half-million mark.
"We are vaccinating more and more each day. We have now got over 400 different sites that are vaccinating, whereas at the start of last week we only had 100. There is a significant acceleration in the plans."
It comes as one of Britain’s leading health experts warned on Sunday that a full vaccine rollout may be three to four months away.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said that doctors were working flat out to distribute the coronavirus vaccine but it would take three to four months for enough of the population be vaccinated.
He told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday: "We are working flat out. We have been working seven days a week, 8am to 8pm.
"It will take, unfortunately, three to four months for enough of the population to be vaccinated.
"Therefore there's light at the end of the tunnel. I hope people, the public, can understand and be patient, carrying on being responsible, follow the rules and measures because we will, if all goes well, in a few months, be able to mix with family, friends and relatives."