Everyone in England should stay at home when they celebrate the New Year on Thursday night, the UK government said.

People should act as if they have Covid-19 to avoid spreading the virus, ministers said as they launched a publicity campaign warning of the rapid rise in infections and the pressure on the National Health Service.

The advice is universal and applies to everyone regardless of which of England’s pandemic restriction tiers their region is in, the Department for Health and Social Care said in a statement.

“With our NHS under pressure we must all take personal responsibility this New Year’s Eve and stay at home,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said. “I know how much we have all sacrificed this year and we cannot let up.”

The advice coincides with new rules putting 78% of the country’s population in the strictest tier 4 pandemic curbs, banning almost all household mixing and closing non-essential shops. While ministers say the roll out of vaccines will allow the country to start getting back normal by spring 2021, they have also warned the weeks ahead may be the hardest yet.

The new faster spreading strain of the virus has driven daily infections to a record level, with more people hospitalized and daily death rates close to the peak of the first wave in the spring. The reopening of schools has been delayed and the government says restrictions could be tightened further.

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