Even Professor Neil Ferguson is now optimistic that vaccines will squash the UK’s third wave of Covid and life in Britain will ‘feel a lot more normal by the summer’.
The SAGE adviser and Imperial College London epidemiologist, whose sobering death toll predictions led Britain into its first lockdown last year, said today that he expects the vaccine rollout to help keep the UK out of lockdown for good.
And even in the autumn and winter, when experts fear the virus will make a comeback like flu, he said the jabs appear to work so well they will hold it at bay.
Professor Ferguson, known as ‘Professor Lockdown’, said the ratio of cases to hospital admissions would be much lower next time around and it was unlikely there will be any danger of the NHS getting overwhelmed.
He admitted ‘we do expect transmission’ when society fully reopens in June but suggested vaccination should replace the need for lockdowns and the UK is ‘in a very good position’ to stick to plans for June 21.
Another member of SAGE, however, urged people not to get over-excited about Boris Johnson’s claim that social distancing could be totally scrapped in summer.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a psychologist at St Andrews University, said ‘things can change very rapidly’ and that cases could spiral if people got complacent.
The next lockdown relaxation is due in less than two weeks’ time on Monday, May 17, when people will be allowed to meet in large groups outdoors, small groups indoors, and indoor entertainment and international travel are expected to reopen.
Only one UK death from coronavirus was announced yesterday – the lowest since August.
Tory MPs seized on the tumbling death toll as yet another sign Covid has been stamped out in the UK and called for Mr Johnson to speed up his roadmap to normality.
Robert Syms, Tory MP for Poole in Dorset, urged Boris Johnson to stick to his promise of following ‘data not dates’. The PM has so far refused to budge in the face of repeated calls for more freedom.
Professor Ferguson, known as ‘Professor Lockdown’ because his warnings of a huge death toll in the first wave led Boris Johnson to lock down the country, said the ratio of cases to hospital admissions would be much lower next time around
Only one UK death from coronavirus was announced yesterday – the lowest since August. MPs seized on the figure to call for an earlier end to lockdown
‘The period we had concerns about – but they are diminishing – is really late summer, early autumn,’ Professor Ferguson said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘If we’re going to see another wave of transmission, that’s where it would take place.
‘But the data on the vaccines is getting ever more encouraging, particularly when you get new data that was released just over a week ago which showed even if you do get infected [after having a vaccine] you are less infectious.
‘So that’s pushed our estimates of the scale of any autumn wave down.’
He said there was still a risk that a vaccine-resistant variant could come along and dent plans to return to life as normal.
Dangerous variants are more likely to emerge when there is widespread transmission – as there still is in many parts of the world, particularly India – and it may also be more likely when people are immune because the virus must evolve to survive.
Professor Ferguson said the South African variant is the closest thing to this right now but that jab still appear to work well against it.
Other advisers to SAGE last week published a study showing that Pfizer’s jab protects well against the SA variant after people have had both doses.
The NHS yesterday passed the milestone of giving out 50million vaccine doses in the UK, with 15.5m people fully vaccinated and 19.1m having received their first jab
Professor Ferguson said: ‘The risk from variants, where vaccines are less effective is the major concern.
‘That’s the one thing that could still lead to a very major third wave in the autumn.
‘So I think it’s essential that we roll out booster doses which can protect against that as soon as we finish vaccinating the adult population which should finish by the summer…
‘It’s much better to be vaccinating people than shutting down the whole of society.
‘So I think, with that one caveat, I am feeling fairly optimistic that we will be – not completely back to normal – but something that feels a lot more normal by the summer.’