THE UK is living through the “most dangerous time” of the pandemic, a UK Government expert has warned, as the public is implored to abide by the Covid-19 restrictions.

Professor Chris Whitty urged people to “double down” on observing the rules, to “minimise any unnecessary contacts,” and not to leave home “unless they absolutely have to”.

He explained: “The most important thing now is for people to actually say: ‘Look, these are the rules, they’re really clear and we shouldn’t do anything that’s outside them,’ but we should, even within them, be doing our level best to minimise the amount of unnecessary contact with people who are not from our house.

“I can’t emphasise that enough. When you think about the pressures there are on the NHS at the moment, that is the thing that all of us can do to help relieve the pressures over the next few weeks.”

His call followed a stark warning from Boris Johnson to Cabinet colleagues that the position hospitals now faced with the unprecedented demand was “perilous”.

The comments came as:

*Matt Hancock, England’s Health Secretary, is due to hold a Downing St press conference at 5pm to highlight the roll-out of vaccines with around two million people having so far had jabs;

*this afternoon, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to give a Commons statement on the latest economic impact of the pandemic;

*Nadhim Zahawi, the UK Government’s Vaccines Minister, will also give a Commons update on the roll-out of vaccines;

*UK ministers are considering even stronger restrictions south of the border as concerns are raised that people are not complying with the lockdown rules closely enough in supermarkets and when exercising;

*the first mass vaccination centres opened in England; they include a football stadium and a tennis club and will be joined later this week by hundreds more GP-led and hospital services along with the first pharmacy-led pilot sites, taking the total to around 1,200 sites south of the border and

*a refrigerated marquee has been erected in Surrey to store dead bodies as the county is experiencing one of the highest death rates from the coronavirus.

Prof Whitty told BBC Breakfast: “Everybody accepts that this is the most dangerous time we’ve really had in terms of numbers into the NHS at this point in time.

“So, absolutely, politicians from every political party, leaders from every nation, are looking at this incredibly seriously at the moment and all of the rest of us have to as well.”

He went on: “If people are taking this very seriously, if they are minimising the number of individual contacts they have to the absolute minimum – so the things they have to do for work, for exercise and essential things – that is the most important thing.

“In a sense tinkering with the rules may be useful but the far more important thing is that everybody abides by the spirit of the rules that are there at the moment.

“Everybody knows what they need to do and that’s the key thing; minimise the number of contacts.”

During a media round, Prof Whitty also said -

*the risk of getting Covid a second time was substantially reduced, probably by between 80% and 90% at least for the first six months.

*he hoped restrictions would not be necessary next winter but stressed society was “quite a long way” from returning to normal life.

*people should abide by the advice on mask-wearing, noting: “I really would encourage people – if they are going on buses or on the Tube or to the shops – and do it properly over the nose and mouth and not just as a fashion accessory.”

*this winter was “in a completely different league” for the NHS, adding: “We will get through together but at this point in time we’re at the worst point in the epidemic for the UK.”

Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi said UK authorities had learned from Israel’s experience in getting the coronavirus jabs deployed quickly with the process of patients getting their shot completed in around four minutes.

“One of the things we have learned is the speed at which they can actually vaccinate people through the mass vaccination centres,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“We want to make sure that we get to similar speeds of being able to vaccinate through mass vaccination centres. They are doing it (at) about four minutes per patient and that’s the sort of target we want to make sure we deliver on.”

He added: “At this stage it’s a race against time. The more vaccine I can get into arms, quicker, the better.”