He told the Daily Express: “Since the beginning of this global pandemic this Government’s top priority has been to do everything we can to support the NHS and save lives.
“I am acutely aware that the measures we have announced are very tough and many people have made major sacrifices this year. But we need to stick at it as every last one of us has a role to play. This country is so proud of our NHS and care workers and we must ensure they can continue to provide the services we need.”
Mr Hancock added: “Help us to help you, so the NHS is always there for you.
“By playing by the rules we can stop the spread of the virus and bring case numbers down – not only protecting ourselves but crucially our loved ones, the community and the country.
“So we must not let up, we must continue to show our determination and together we will crack this.”
But Mr Hancock sounded an ominous note for pubs, suggesting they could be forced to close their doors under new controls.
During a conference call with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Health Secretary said: “Outside your household and socialising between households, the highest place in incidence of likely transmission – measured by where people have contacts – is unfortunately hospitality.
“Now obviously that finding is not good news in terms of the policy action we have to take for that sector.”
A new round of restrictions based around a three-tier traffic light system for local lockdowns is expected to be announced, especially in the North, which is now seeing two-thirds of all new cases.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock is urging Britons to ‘stick with it’
However ministers are understood to be divided over details of the plan.
Boris Johnson is resisting pressure from leading scientists to follow Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in imposing a national two-week “circuit break” clampdown on licensed premises.
In the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister insisted that the Government would stick to targeting infection surges on a regional basis.
He told MPs: “The local, regional approach combined with the national measures remains correct.”
Mr Johnson’s plan has put him once again at odds with Ms Sturgeon’s administration.
The Scottish Government yesterday announced a “short, sharp” clampdown. Pubs and restaurants north of the border will be able to open indoor space only between 6am and 6pm.
Apart from off-sales, they will also be banned from selling alcohol during the 16-day “circuit break” in an attempt to halt the virus transmissions.
Mr Johnson is understood to have ruled out a similar short closure of hospitality businesses in England, despite pressure from top scientists. Britain recorded 14,162 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, with 70further deaths and 2,944 people in hospital – up from 1,958 last Wednesday.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, who is a member of the SAGE group of Government advisers, said: “Circuit breakers are certainly something we should be thinking about on a national basis.”
Matt Hancock suggested pubs could be forced to close their doors under new controls
Professor Stephen Reicher, from the University of St Andrews, sits on the Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours which advises SAGE.
He warned: “If you look at the figures at the moment, the level of infections is about 10 per cent of what it was at the peak in March.
“But at the rate of doubling it would probably be at the same as the peak in March by the end of October. So the good news is we have a window of opportunity to do something.
“If we squander that window of opportunity then we really are in trouble and would be talking about going back to March in terms of full lockdown measures.”
In the Commons, health minister Helen Whately told MPs: “We are now very much seeing a second wave, particularly in much of the north of England.
“Therefore it is absolutely appropriate that there are greater restrictions because we must suppress this virus.
“And one place we know that infection goes on is through hospitality where there is social contact.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: “We are seeing coronavirus cases rising across the country but they are rising faster in the North-east and the North-west and that is concerning.
“We will not hesitate to take further action in the areas where cases and hospitalisations are rising significantly in order to protect communities, protect the NHS and to save lives.”
The head of the NHS warned yesterday that increasing Covid cases would make for a tough winter. Sir Simon Stevens told the NHS Providers annual conference that 2020 had been “without doubt the most challenging year in the history of the National Health Service” but said lessons had been learned from the first wave.
He said: “If we’re speaking frankly, there are disturbing signs that infection from coronavirus are again rising, they are clearly heading in the wrong direction.
Boris Johnson is resisting pressure to impose a national two-week circuit break
“As we look into winter we are going to have to be very agile in our response, not only to coronavirus but to winter pressures and to sustaining the wider range of services that the NHS offers.
“There was nothing inevitable about the NHS not being overwhelmed as we saw in some other countries across Europe and around the world.
“This time around we have a better sense of what the range of demands are that might be placed on the health service.”
In a final message to frontline NHS staff about the upcoming winter challenges, Sir Simon added: “We’ve got the country with us.
“There was a period of great intensity nationally in April and May where that was very explicitly on view, whether that was the evening claps or the rainbows. But the truth is that I think the country are still absolutely on our side.
“That doesn’t however detract from the fact that it is going to be tough, it is always tough over the winter period.
“We have got certain things working in our favour this time round.
“But equally we’ve got a lot of pressures we’re going to be facing.”
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers – the association of trusts and foundations – agreed the health service faced a daunting challenge in the coming months.
The new restrictions are expected to be announced within days
He said: “As cases rise and admissions for Covid-19 increase, there is no question that the challenges trusts face heading into winter are formidable, and the most difficult days may be ahead of us.”
Mr Hopson also said hospital leaders were concerned that local lockdowns may not be sufficient at curbing transmission.
He added: “If that is the case we will need to rapidly consider whether tougher local lockdowns are needed to protect the NHS as it enters its busy winter period.
“We understand restrictions are frustrating and come at a very significant cost.
“But we cannot afford to be complacent as we move towards winter.”
British Medical Association chair of council Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “As we enter a second wave that could be every bit as dangerous as the first, we all have a duty to
protect ourselves, our fellow citizens and our NHS.
“It’s vital that Government rules on face mask use and social distancing are taken seriously by people of all ages – and tougher rules on social mixing may be necessary soon.
“The medical profession has a clear message to the public: please minimise contact with others, wear a mask (not a visor alone) if you can’t avoid being fewer than two metres from people not in your bubble, wash or sanitise your hands frequently and avoid touching your face when you’re out.”