Matt Hancock has warned that the country is facing a “big moment” as coronavirus hospital admissions continue to rise.
The Health Secretary said it is vital that people follow the rule of six, or the more stringent measures imposed here in Greater Manchester.
“It is deadly serious,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday (September 18).
“The results of not doing so will be that this goes more out of control and we have to take more stringent measures which have a bigger economic impact and also that we have more people catching the virus, more people going to hospital and, I fear, more people will die.”
Mr Hancock also clarified the government’s strategy for tackling coronavirus, stating that the aim was to suppress the virus and keep education and economy going until a vaccine is approved.
He said: “The strategy is to keep the virus down as much as is possible whilst protecting education and the economy.
“And doing everything we possibly can for the cavalry that’s on the horizon of the vaccine and mass testing, and the treatments that, frankly, this country has done more than any other around the world to develop.”
When asked if this was a grave moment for the country he said: “This is a big moment for the country.
“We’re seeing an acceleration in the number of cases and we’re also seeing that the number of people hospitalised with coronavirus is doubling every eight days.
“So this isn’t just about people catching it and maybe because they’re younger, they’re not affected.
“We’re now starting to see the effect in hospitals. So we have to as a country come together. The single most important thing, the line of defence, is the basics - hands, face and space.”
The minister said experts now know far more about the virus and where it’s transmitted “because of the scale of the testing and the contact tracing”.
“We know that the vast majority of transmissions happen in social settings,” he said.
Pressed on whether a national lockdown was being considered he said: “We want to avoid national lockdown altogether. That is the last line of defence.”
He added: “I have learnt over the last nine months not ever to rule anything out however it’s not the proposal that’s on the table.”
The Health Secretary said people are far more likely to catch the virus from people they know rather than a stranger.
“There’s two things that people really feel naturally that aren’t helpful,” he said.
“One is that people feel really naturally that they are more likely to catch this from a stranger, from somebody they don’t know.
“But, actually, most people catch it from somebody they know, and know well. Just because you’re much more naturally going to come close to them.
“And, the second thing is that if you have been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive you need to self-isolate for two weeks.
“And, it doesn’t matter whether you get a test result in that time because the virus incubates, you can’t then be released from that self-isolation.
“So, the self-isolation rules are so important as part of this and it is vital that people follow them.”
He added: “These are very serious times. This is a very serious increase and acceleration in this disease. People need to follow the rule of six full stop.”