Matt Hancock said one in five local authorities saw a rise in Covid cases in the last week as he warned: “the fight is not over yet”.
Leading a Downing Street press conference on Friday, the Health Secretary said the link from cases to hospitalisations and deaths was “now breaking” thanks to the vaccination programme.
Presenting a slide showing the latest figures, he said: “This demonstrates that there’s been a fall in the number of cases but that the speed of that fall is slowing slightly.
“This fact and the fact that the pressure on the NHS has lifted somewhat means the UK chief medical officers have agreed the UK alert level has been moved down from Level 5 to Level 4, but that still means there is significant pressure on the NHS.
“The number of cases is now falling by only 15% a week, in some areas that has flattened entirely and one in 5 local authority areas has seen a rise in cases in the last week.
“This stark picture shows that this isn’t over yet. The stay at home rules are still in place for a reason.
“Every time you put your mask on, every time you stay at home you are playing your part.
“This is still a deadly virus. We must all remain vigilant.”
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said the concentration was in the Midlands and extending in a belt from the east to the west with further “hotspots” in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
He said: “Although it is generally good news it is better news in some places than others. It is not a battle that we have won yet.”
He added: “We have now completed 19 million first doses of vaccine very successfully.
“These are first doses. People do need a second dose and given that the totality of the cohorts one to nine is about 30 million people., each of whom need two doses of vaccine, there are something like 40 million doses still to be given.
“Much as it’s encouraging and I am really very upbeat about vaccines, there is a long way to go.
“And my inbox in the last week has been besieged with people writing in saying I have had the vaccine, can I now start to break the rules.
“The answer to that is no, we are not yet collectively as a country in the right place.
“This is all going very well but there are some worrying signs that people are relaxing, taking their foot off
“It’s like being three up in a game and thinking we cannot lose this now.
“Do not wreck this now. It is too early to relax. Just a few more months.”