HOME Secretary Priti Patel has warned it is "no time to speak about the relaxation of measures" after the UK recorded its highest daily coronavirus death figure to date.

This comes amid claims that lockdown could last beyond March as hospitals remain under immense pressure from the virus.

Several national newspapers have reported that Good Friday, April 2, is the earliest date Boris Johnson was targeting for "a significant lifting of the lockdown".

Ms Patel told Sky News: "We are at a pivotal stage. Our vaccine rollout is under way but we have a long way to go with vaccination.

The Argus: Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now aiming to ease lockdown rules in April rather than March, it has been reportedPrime Minister Boris Johnson is now aiming to ease lockdown rules in April rather than March, it has been reported

"We cannot talk about easing restrictions and measures until we are absolutely clear we have vaccinated priority groups."

It has previously been reported that the government aimed to lift some restrictions in mid-February, when officials aimed to have vaccinated the four most vulnerable, priority groups.

These include the over-70s and frontline health and social care workers.

But Ms Patel said it is currently "no time to speak about" any easing of the rules while the NHS remained under enormous strain.

She said: "Quite frankly, when I look at the incredible work that is taking place in the NHS right now, when we still see hospitalisation figures now standing at over 38,000 people, with the number of people still dying with coronavirus, with the number of hospital admissions increasing, this is no time to speak about the relaxation of measures and we're not going to do that publicly yet.

"We have a long way to go."

There were 1,610 deaths of people within 28 days of them receiving a positive test result for Covid-19 in the 24 hours leading up to 9am yesterday.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Ms Patel described this as a "tragedy".

"You've heard me say before that we have to absolutely focus on sticking with the coronavirus rules - staying at home, stopping the spread of this deadly, dreadful virus and disease," she said.

The Argus: Home Secretary Priti PatelHome Secretary Priti Patel

"And also look at the pressures on our NHS ... this is deeply challenging and none of us can say, hand on heart, that we're out of the woods yet.

"We have a long way to go. The vaccine rollout is a positive step forward but we've obviously got to vaccinate a very significant number of the population, and that work is taking place."

But NHS England's Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance has also warned that plenty of progress has to be made before the current rules can be reviewed.

He claimed vaccines are not doing enough "heavy lifting" at the moment and case rates need to drop further before the government can think of easing restrictions.

But, he added, there is "light at the end of the tunnel".

In a question and answer session with Sky News, Sir Patrick was asked if the lockdown would be kept in place if infection figures stayed the same or dropped.

"The advice at the moment is vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment, anywhere near it," he said.

"This is about, I'm afraid, the restrictive measures which we're all living under and carrying on with those.

"The numbers are nowhere near where they need to be at the moment, they need to come down quite a lot further - we need to make sure we stick with it.

"You go for a walk in the park or something, life looks normal; you go for a walk in a hospital, if you work in a hospital, you will see life not looking normal at all.

The Argus: Hove seafront during lockdown on January 20Hove seafront during lockdown on January 20

"This is a really difficult, dangerous situation we're in, and we need to get the numbers down, so I don't see a release of these measures as being a sensible thing to do in the short term."

He said it was hoped that as the vaccine took effect and cases dropped, it would be possible to start a gradual release of some of the measures.

But he warned: "I think it's important to recognise this is not going to be a sort of big bang, 'great, take the lid off, everything's fine, we can all go back to normal'.

"This is going to be a slow release, monitoring carefully, understanding the effects."

Sir Patrick said that through the summer and into winter "things will be a lot better" because a large proportion of the population will have been vaccinated.

He said some restrictions may be needed next winter such as mask-wearing in certain places, keeping up with hand washing and "being sensible" about interacting indoors, but he would "be very surprised if we go on year on year with needing to do things more than that".

The Argus: Brighton while the city was under less stringent Tier 2 restrictionsBrighton while the city was under less stringent Tier 2 restrictions

In a direct message to the public, Sir Patrick said: "There's light at the end of the tunnel, science is going to get us out of this, and we're on the way.

"We need to carry on doing what we're doing and a big thank you to everybody.

"It's really tough to keep these restrictions in place, it's really tough on children, it's really tough on all of us.

"Please keep going because if we can keep this under control, if we can drive these numbers down, that's what's going to get us out of this sooner."