Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt
Boris Johnson has refused to rule out a third England lockdown after Christmas, saying the rates of Covid infection have increased “very much” in the last few weeks.
He said he was "hoping very much that we will be able to avoid anything like that", but the warning signs were there, adding: "But the reality is that the rates of infection have increased very much in the last few weeks.”
Wales has already indicated it will impose a firebreak post-Christmas and Northern Ireland will go into a six-week lockdown into 2021.
The Prime Minister's comments come as Covid cases rise steeply across many parts of the UK and across all age groups.
An estimated 567,300 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 6 and 12, the equivalent of around 1.04% of the population, or one in 95 people, according to the data from Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It represents a rise from 481,500 people, or one in 115, who were estimated to have Covid-19 in the period November 29 to December 5.On a visit to Greater Manchester, Mr Johnson was asked England would follow Northern Ireland in imposing stringent restrictions after the festive period.
There has been a sharp increase in the percentage of people testing positive in London, with increases also in the East of England, East Midlands and the South East.
In the North West and Yorkshire and The Humber the percentage of people testing positive has continued to decrease.
The Prime Minister urged people to avoid spreading coronavirus over Christmas and to think carefully about their plans.
Experts have continually warned against the government allowing an easing of Covid restrictions fearing a "tsunami" of cases in the new year.
Mr Johnson said: “What we’re saying to people now over this Christmas period is think of those rules about the three households that you can bubble up with, the five days. That is very much a maximum – that’s not a target people should aim for.
“I think people really get this, people do get this, all the evidence I’m seeing, people really understand this is the time to look after, to think about, our elderly relatives, avoid spreading the disease.
“Keep it short, keep it small, have yourselves a very little Christmas as I said the other night – that is, I’m afraid, the way through this year.
“Next year I have no doubt that as we roll out the vaccine and all the other things that we’re doing it will be very, very different indeed.”
How did the people of Peterborough react to the Tier announcement? Stacey Foster reports
Sir Keir Starmer urged the Prime Minister to act now to avoid a third lockdown.
"Nobody wants a third lockdown it's hugely damaging on health grounds but also for the economy," the Labour leader said."I think most people will be saying to the Prime Minister, 'it's not a question on whether you rule it in or rule it out, try and that are you doing now to prevent it?'
"We can see that the tier system isn't working in the way that the Prime Minister promised. More people are going into the higher tiers, so it's not strong enough it."The gaps are still there; there isn't the support for people to self-isolate. The communications are all over the place - 'go to work, no don't go to work'; 'eat out, no don't eat out'; 'have a Christmas, have a small Christmas'.
"These problems have got to be sorted, so whether the Prime Minister rules it out or not is not the central question, the central question Prime Minister is 'what are you doing now to prevent the chances of a third lockdown."
On Friday, President Donald Trump said a second coronavirus vaccine, made by Moderna, has been approved for use in the US.
The UK Government has secured seven million doses of the jab – enough to vaccinate about 3.5 million people – and it is still under consideration for approval here by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The proportion of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated to have increased sharply in London, with other increases in Eastern England, the East Midlands and south-east England, the ONS said.
Rates have continued to decrease in north-west England and Yorkshire & the Humber.
The East Midlands has the highest rate (with an estimated 1.4% of people in private households testing positive for Covid-19), followed by London (1.4%) and north-east England (1.2%).
South-west England has the lowest rate (0.4%).Katherine Kent, Co-head of analysis for the COVID-19 Infection Survey said: "Rates in most age groups have increased and continue to remain highest in secondary school age children.“Across the UK, infections appear to be increasing in both Wales and Scotland, in Northern Ireland the percentage of people testing positive appears to no longer be decreasing.”
In Wales, the percentage of people testing positive for Covid-19 has increased in recent weeks, the ONS said.
An estimated 33,400 people in private households had Covid-19 between December 6 and 12 – the equivalent of 1.10% of the population.