The government will hold an emergency meeting later to consider implementing social distancing measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, including banning mass gatherings and lengthy household isolation for the elderly.
And the Government is in talks with private hospitals about the possibility of taking over beds in a further sign of the pressures that will face the health service at the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Mr Hancock said: “Our generation has never been tested like this.
“Our grandparents were, during the Second World War, when our cities were bombed during the Blitz.
“Despite the pounding every night, the rationing, the loss of life, they pulled together in one gigantic national effort.
“Today our generation is facing its own test, fighting a very real and new disease.”
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, he said everyone would have to make sacrifices to protect not only themselves, but “especially those most vulnerable to the disease”.
The increase in activity came after 10 more patients died in England after testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total number of UK deaths to 21, while the US government imposed a travel ban on the UK and Ireland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Experts on the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) set out the need for extra action to slow the spread of the disease.
The panel advised that the next interventions “will need to be instituted soon”.
Those measures will include steps to shield the vulnerable – including the elderly and those with existing health problems – from the virus by telling them to stay in their houses or care homes.
There could also be a shift to household isolation rather than individual self-isolation.
The 10 patients who died since Friday were being cared for in Buckinghamshire, Sandwell & West Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Barts, London, north Middlesex and Chester, NHS England said.
A number of the patients, who were over 60, had underlying health conditions.
There have been 1,140 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Saturday, up from 798 at the same time on Friday.
The UK death toll now stands at 21, with 20 in England and one in Scotland.
At a press conference on Saturday, President Donald Trump – who said he had been tested for the virus – announced the extension of his travel restrictions to cover the UK and Ireland.
The changes will come in at midnight on Monday night in the eastern US.