Jeremy Hunt has said the NHS’s winter coronavirus crisis is “off-the-scale worse” than any he faced as health secretary.
It came as part of an intervention in which Hunt called for a national lockdown to be imposed immediately.
In a string of tweets, Hunt – who remains a senior MP as chair of the House of Commons health and social care committee – rejected claims this winter is no worse for the NHS than others before the pandemic.
He said the pressure currently on the NHS due to COVID-19 means “we cannot afford to wait” as he called for a full lockdown including school closures and a ban on international travel.
As of Monday, more than 75% of England was under the toughest Tier 4 restrictions.
However, with worryingly high infection rates (a further 54,990 cases were confirmed in the UK on Sunday) and COVID hospital admissions (23,823 people were being treated as of 28 December, the latest date for which data is available), there have been growing calls for even tighter rules.
On Sunday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for a third national lockdown, while Boris Johnson himself admitted on Monday that tougher rules would be “coming soon”.
Watch: Boris Johnson says no question tougher action needed to curb coronavirus
One area in which Johnson appears not to be backing down, however, was on schools.
With the majority of primary schools in England supposed to return on Monday, the prime minister insisted this was “safe” for pupils and school staff.
The PM also said closing primary schools was his biggest regret from the first national lockdown in March last year.
Hunt, meanwhile, stressed there was “good news” in that any new restrictions would be “time limited” for 12 weeks because two vaccines are now available to people most vulnerable to the virus.
“So there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Hunt said.
Watch: What is long COVID?