Britain could enjoy a summer without face masks because vaccines are working so well at bringing coronavirus under control, No10 scientists hope.
One top adviser said life will return ‘much more towards normal’ in the coming months as more people get immunity from Covid thanks to the vaccine rollout and warmer weather, which helps to keep cases down.
Falling infections, hospital admissions and deaths are tumbling just as scientists hoped they would when the lockdown began. They are expected to drop even further in May and there are no signs that lockdown will have to be extended – social distancing laws are expected to expire on June 21.
The ONS report found Covid cases dropped in Northern Ireland – where one in 660 have Covid – and Scotland – where it’s one in 560. But they rose slightly in Wales to one in 840, although this was still the lowest in the UK.
And the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) estimated England’s R rate has risen slightly from a range of 0.7 to 1.0 to between 0.8 and 1.0. But experts said when cases are so low even small clusters can push it up, with one SAGE member insisting that it was becoming ‘progressively unreliable’.
Due to the way estimates are made, the R rate is always three weeks behind. Officials say this means the most recent figure does not take into account last week’s unlocking of lockdown.
The ONS infection survey is seen as the gold-standard for tracking the outbreak by ministers, because it relies on random swabbing of more than 100,000 Britons.
This means it is able to pick up cases among people who are asymptomatic – which trigger no warning signs – thought to make up a third of all cases.