The ‘astonishing’ response came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock appealed for people to join the national effort last night.

Mr Hancock had said the government was looking for 250,000 volunteers to carry out tasks such as ferrying patients to hospital and bringing food and medicine to those isolated.

And NHS England medical director Stephen Powis revealed today that the numbers were already approaching the target – with 170,000 offering to help overnight.

‘That is three a minute signing up to help the NHS,’ he told the BBC. ‘It is an absolutely astonishing response… I think at times of crisis people come together.’