Health Secretary Matt Hancock has pleaded with the public to follow coronavirus lockdown rules and reduce all social contact that is not “absolutely” necessary.

He told a Downing Street press conference that the new variant of coronavirus is “highly contagious and it is putting the NHS under very significant pressure”.

Mr Hancock added: “The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now – and that something is to follow the rules.

“I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don’t rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.

“Stay at home, and please reduce all social contact that is not absolutely strictly necessary. That’s what is needed: act like you have the virus.”

New Forest Post: Matt Hancock. (PA)Matt Hancock. (PA)

His warning comes as the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England stood at a record 32,070 as of 8am on Monday January 11, according to the latest figures from NHS England.

The figure is up 20% on a week ago, and up 81% since Christmas Day.

Six of the seven NHS England regions currently have a record number of Covid-19 hospital patients.

In London, the number stands at 7,799 patients, up 16% in a week, while in south-east England the number is 5,467, also up 16% in a week.

The Midlands has 5,524 patients, up 23%; eastern England has 4,219, up 16%; north-west England has 3,733, up 33%; and south-west England has 1,936, up 38%.

The one region not yet at a record level is north-east England/Yorkshire, where the number currently stands at 3,392, up 20% week-on-week. Patient numbers peaked here at 3,473 on November 16.

As the vaccine rollout gathers pace the Health Secretary said two fifths of over 80s and “almost a quarter of older care home residents” have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Matt Hancock said he wanted Britons to “have that great British summer” and for life to return to normal “as fast possible” as he outlined details of the vaccine rollout.

According to new Government figures, the number of people in the UK to have been given their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is nearly 2.3 million.

The National Medical Director for England has said that seven vaccination hubs and more than 1,000 pharmacies are gearing up to start delivering Covid-19 jabs.

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, Professor Stephen Powis said that 1,200 pharmacies in England alone will join the vaccination roll-out.

“We will then kick off another sprint up to April as we get the rest of the vulnerable groups protected and finally a marathon to the autumn as we deliver vaccination to everyone else,” he said.

He added that, apart from social distancing and Covid-19 safety measures, “these vaccines are the best line of defence that we have as we continue this battle against coronavirus”.