Britain could stay under lockdown restrictions through the spring and into summer, Boris Johnson has suggested.
The prime minister said it was "too early to say" when asked whether rules could be relaxed in the spring or go on longer.
Mr Johnson said it was "absolutely crucial" to obey the current restrictions "in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead".
He made his comments on Thursday morning on a visit to the north west to see the impact of flooding caused by Storm Cristoph.
The government has pledged to review restrictions, especially for schools, 15 February, but Mr Johnson appeared to downplay hopes of an early release.
"I think it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions," the prime minister said, when asked about the summer.
"We'll look [on February 15] at how we're doing but I think what we're seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we're seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas - there's no doubt it does spread very fast indeed.
"It's not more deadly but it is much more contagious and the numbers are very great."
A further 1,820 people were recorded to have died from the pandemic on Wednesday, the highest recorded number in any single day – bringing the today to 93,290.
The previous highest number of deaths recorded in a single day during the outbreak was 1,610, which was reported on Tuesday.
Speaking to the Commons education committee this week Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said it was still unclear whether schools would be able to reopen to all pupils next month.
“I know everybody wants very certain planning, and dates for opening and closing – unfortunately that’s not how the virus works,” she told MPs.