The UK is “at or close to the bottom” of levels of coronavirus cases, according to England’s deputy chief medical officer who praised the public for sticking to lockdown measures.
Speaking at a Downing Street COVID briefing, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “We are really in very low levels that are comparable to where we were in September last year.
“We are running as a typical seven-day average at just over 2,000 people testing positive per day.
“My sense is that probably we are at or close to the bottom at the moment in terms of this level of disease in the UK.”
He added: “Most of the steady decline we have seen, the disappearance of our third wave, has been down to the efforts of the British people in following lockdown.”
But he also warned of “twists and turns ahead” and said he anticipated “some degree of bumpiness [in the road]” probably in the autumn and winter.
The UK has recorded another 29 coronavirus-related deaths and 2,166 new cases in the latest 24-hour period, according to government data.
It comes as separate figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest almost 70% of the adult population in England now have COVID antibodies.
And a Public Health England study found a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can cut transmission of the virus by up to half.
The UK government has announced it has secured another 60 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to use as booster jabs to protect the country’s progress ahead of the colder months.
Prof Van-Tam said the modelling suggested there will be a third wave in the UK but it “may be just a third upsurge and much less significant” if the vaccination programme carries on at pace and continues to be successful.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly warned in recent weeks that the third wave of coronavirus that has been sweeping Europe will eventually “wash up on our shores”.
Prof Van-Tam said in the coming weeks as further lockdown measures in England are set to be eased there will be “good pressures” and “bad pressures” on the R number.
R represents the average number of people a person with the virus goes on to infect.
When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially – but it is shrinking if it is below 1.
He said the bad pressures would be as Britons “mix more normally” which would have a “propensity to increase R”.
But he also said the continuing vaccine rollout to younger people would put “downward pressure” on R, as he likened it to “competing forces”.
He added: “I can’t emphasise how important the vaccine programme continues to be because we are at the moment down to 42-year-olds but we need to go much further down and continue that high uptake to put us in a really sustainably safe place.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK was on track to ease further lockdown restrictions, including allowing some indoor mixing between households, next month.
He said: “The data show that we are essentially precisely on track for where we expected to be at this point and that is obviously good news.
“The dates we set out are not-before dates because we want to see the impact of each step before the decision to take the next step.
“The good news is that as far as the next step is concerned, which is in a few weeks’ time – and we’re going to keep monitoring the data – but as of today, we are on track for step three on May 17 and that is good news.”
Mr Hancock will be among those getting their vaccine on Thursday, after people aged 42 and over in England were called to come forward and book their jab.
Step three of the lockdown roadmap in England set for 17 May includes:
• Outdoors, most social contact rules will be lifted, but gatherings of more than 30 will be illegal
• Indoors, the rule of six or a larger group of up to two households will be allowed
• Indoor hospitality – pubs, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums, galleries, concert halls, children play areas, hotels, B&Bs, indoor exercise classes – will be allowed
• Large indoor performances and sporting events with a capacity of 1,000 people or half full – whichever is a lower number – will be allowed
• Outdoor large performances and sporting events will have a maximum capacity of 4,000 people or must only be half full, whichever is lower
• Bigger sports stadiums will be allowed 10,000 people or can only be a quarter full, whichever is lower
• Testing will be used to support these openings.