Tough new coronavirus controls will have to remain for “some time”, Matt Hancock has warned as he admitted that a mutant new strain of the disease was “out of control”.
The Health Secretary said the country was facing an “enormous challenge” after scientists warned the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.
During a round of broadcast interviews he said that everyone in the country needed to take “personal responsibility” for their actions to help curb the spread of the disease.
The restrictions may have to remain for “the next couple of months”, he suggested.
“We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present,” Mr Hancock said.
“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.
“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.”
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Boris Johnson should apologise for his “gross negligence” after he failed to act earlier to curb the spread of disease.
Millions of families had their Christmas plans plunged into disarray after the Prime Minister announced on Saturday that London and the South East were to go into a new two-week lockdown in an attempt to get the disease back under control.
People across the rest of England were told that household mixing over the festive period would be restricted to Christmas Day only – a move quickly followed by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething told BBC News on Sunday that the new variant was “effectively seeded” across the country and was a factor in the rapid rise of cases in Wales.