Chris Whitty has urged people to follow lockdown rules saying the only way to prevent avoidable deaths is to stay at home wherever possible as the NHS faces the “most dangerous situation” in living memory.

England’s Chief Medical officer also predicted that the next few weeks could be the worst of the pandemic to date.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme he said: “We have got to be very clear that we are now at the worst point of this epidemic for the UK,” he said, adding that people should “really think about” unnecessary contact.

A third national lockdown was introduced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the country battles a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

All four nations of the UK are facing dire warnings, with high levels of infection and hospitals struggling under the strain.

Professor Whitty told BBC Breakfast: “The virus can essentially be passed on in any place where people from two different households meet together.

“It can be passed on and very often is passed on in households when people invite other people into their home and meet them who are not from their household.”

He added: “Of course it can be passed on in any other environment, outside, in shops, any environment within an indoor setting.

“The key thing is to understand that it’s when you meet people from another household, under any circumstances, and they’re very often your friends, your family, but those are the kind of situations where the virus is passed on.

“It doesn’t care who you are, it doesn’t care whether they’re your friends, if you meet someone from another household, the virus has an opportunity to be transmitted.”

Winsford Guardian: Global Covid-19 cases and deaths. (PA)Global Covid-19 cases and deaths. (PA)

Last week, Professor Whitty warned that some Covid-19 restrictions may have to be brought back into place next winter to help control the virus.

Asked about his previous comments he told told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had been making the “obvious point” that respiratory viruses cause problems in winter.

“Obviously our hope is that the vaccination programme will be so effective, and so extensive in terms of the vaccine efficacy, of everyone taking it up, that actually we need no additional things above what you would normally do in winter … but I think you need to leave open the possibility.

“As a doctor, I’m trained to tell people pretty straight what I think’s going to happen – that’s what I think is one of the possibilities.”