'Next few weeks will be the worst' says Chris Whitty - the rules UK residents must follow to stay safe

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned that the UK will go through the “most dangerous time” of the pandemic in the weeks before the vaccine rollout has an effect.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Whitty urged people to “double down” and stop any “unnecessary contacts”.

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He said: “What we need to do before the vaccines have had their effect - because it’s going to take several weeks before that happens - is we need to really double down.

“This is everybody’s problem, any single unnecessary contact with someone is a potential link in a chain of transmission that will lead to a vulnerable person.

“We’ve all got to, as individuals, help the NHS, help our fellow citizens, by minimising the amount of unnecessary contacts we have.”

The professor added that the virus can be passed on in any place where people from different households get together, explaining that it can spread through meeting in homes, in shops and even outdoors.

“It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn't care whether you’re friends. If you meet from another household, the virus has an opportunity to be transmitted,” Whitty said.

‘Take the rules very, very seriously’

Whitty urged members of the public to take the current rules “very, very seriously” and said that people should be looking to cut out any necessary contacts they have.

He said: “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 I think that’s the key thing - minimise the number of contacts.”

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahwai said: “These rules are not boundaries to be pushed at, they are rules to help all of us bring down the death rate, bring down the pressure on the NHS and help us, help me, keep vaccinating so that we can actually get ahead of the virus.”

The rules across the UK

These are the new rules currently in place in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales at a glance.

England

England has gone into lockdown again in order to try and control the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

People in England must stay at home and only go out for essential reasons, such as for work, essential shopping, exercise or medical appointments.

Exercise is allowed outdoors once a day in your local area, and you can exercise with your household, support bubble or one other person.

Schools are closed except for vulnerable students and children of key workers, and the majority of universities are teaching online with some course exceptions.

Household mixing indoors and outdoors is not permitted unless they are in your support or childcare bubble.

Non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues are closed.

Pubs and restaurants are also closed, but can remain open for takeaway, delivery and drive through services.

You can read about all the restrictions currently in England in more detail on the government website here.

Scotland

Mainland Scotland is currently under Tier 4 restrictions, with the exception of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other island communities, which remain in Tier 3.

Under Tier 4 restrictions, nursery, primary and secondary schools have closed for all except vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers, with learning moving online.

Residents are only allowed to leave home for essential reasons, such as caring responsibilities, essential shopping or exercise.

Those who are shielding should not go to work, even if they cannot work from home.

Only essential retail is permitted to remain open, and restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars and now closed, except for takeaway, delivery and drive through services.

It is also illegal to travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK, unless the journey is essential.

You can read about all the Tier 4 restrictions on the Scottish government website here.

Northern Ireland

From Boxing Day, a six week lockdown was implemented in Northern Ireland, and from 8 January it became legally enforceable, meaning that police can order people to return home.

Under the lockdown rules, all non essential shops have closed, hospitality businesses are only open for takeaway and delivery and leisure and entertainment venues are also closed.

Hair and beauty salons are also closed, and off-licences must close by 8pm.

You can read about the restrictions in Northern Ireland in detail on the Northern Ireland government website.

Wales

Also under national lockdown, Wales is also implementing level four measures.

These measures mean that residents must stay at home, except for limited purposes, you cannot visit other households or meet other people you don’t live with and that wedding receptions and wakes are not permitted.

Non essential shops, entertainment venues and hospitality venues are also all closed, as well as hairdressers and nail salons.

Sport, leisure and fitness facilities are also closed.

You can read more about the regulations in Wales in more detail on the Welsh government website here.