Boris Johnson today faced fresh calls to speed up his lockdown exit roadmap after coronavirus data suggested the UK is now in a similar position to July last year – before vaccines were available – at the point of the first major unlocking.
A Covid Symptom Study, run by ZOE and King’s College London, estimated around 1,924 people were getting ill every day between March 20 to April 3 as the number of Britons with tell-tale Covid symptoms more than halved in a week.
That represented the team’s lowest estimate since August and is down 54 per cent from 4,152 per day the previous week, with the fall coming after a period of levelling off, which experts blamed on schools reopening.
Separately, modelling published by University College London suggested Britain could pass the threshold for herd immunity as soon as Monday next week.
The UCL data suggested that 73.4 per cent of the population will have protection against Covid by April 12, a significantly more optimistic outlook than that of a study published by Imperial College London this week which suggested just 34 per cent would have the vital antibody protection by the end of last month.
Meanwhile, Department of Health data released yesterday showed there were 2,763 new lab-confirmed cases and 45 Covid deaths – numbers broadly in line with the picture last summer.
The numbers, as well as the success of the vaccine rollout, have prompted Tory MPs to urge Mr Johnson to speed up the easing of restrictions.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory former Cabinet minister, told MailOnline that the exit from lockdown ‘should be quicker’ because the PM’s current roadmap dates are ‘deeply pessimistic’.
Despite the increasingly positive data, Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted the nation is on the ‘right course’ in terms of the easing of restrictions as he dismissed UCL’s modelling on herd immunity.
Herd immunity is when an infectious disease stops naturally spreading in a population because enough people are protected against the disease.
Mr Hancock rubbished the forecast and said he had been ‘told by some scientists that we were going to have herd immunity in May and then in June and then after that’.
He defended the Government’s cautious approach and said ‘we have seen what happens when this virus gets going’ with the PM’s plan designed to achieve an ‘irreversible’ return to something close to normal life.
It came as Mr Hancock launched a media blitz to reassure the public over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine as he insisted the nation’s vaccination drive remains on course to offer all UK adults a jab by the end of July.
Mr Hancock said a decision by UK health chiefs to rule the AstraZeneca jab should not be given to Britons under the age of 30 as experts continue to investigate its link to rare blood clots showed ‘the safety system is working because the regulators can spot even this extremely rare event’.
He said ‘people can take confidence that we have a system that we are extremely careful on the safety front’ but he insisted that ‘when you get the call, get the jab’.
The Government’s vaccine advisory group yesterday ruled that people aged between 18 and 29 should be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Mr Hancock said the UK has ‘more than enough’ Pfizer and Moderna jabs to cover all of the people in that age group who are yet to receive a vaccination – approximately 8.5million.
He said ‘all three vaccines that are in use in the UK are safe and they are safe at all ages’ and that there is simply a ‘preference for the under-30s, if they want to have the Pfizer of Moderna jab instead then they can’.
The number of Britons getting tell-tale Covid symptoms has more than halved in a week, data by ZOE and King’s College London has shown
NHS Test and Trace data released today showed the number of people testing positive for Covid fell by…