Tuesday’s official data showed that Covid cases in the UK have fallen for the seventh consecutive day – but the prime minister stressed the pandemic was far from over.
“I’ve noticed obviously that we’re … into some better figures, but it is very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about this,” Mr Johnson told broadcasters earlier on Tuesday.
He pointed out that it would take a while for the lifting of restrictions in England on 19 July to feed through to the data. “People have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government.”
The closure of schools for summer, the end of the Euro 2020 and warmer weather are among factors epidemiologists have suggested might have for reduced social mixing indoors and therefore transmission.
Sage adviser Professor Mark Walport said: “It’s much better news than the alternative – but I think that everyone’s scratching their heads a little bit as to exactly what the explanation is.”
Some scientists have suggested a growing reluctance to get tested has led to the prediction-defying fall in case numbers in recent days.
Professor Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, warned that changes in testing might mean that the sharpness of the drop in daily figures.
Prof Kao said: “(Cases) may go up again, because we’re only just going to be starting to see the effect of the complete release of restrictions associated with July 19 in England. So there may still be rises yet to come.”
The UK recorded 23,511 Covid cases on Tuesday – dropping for a seventh day in a row. But 131 deaths were registered within 28 days of a positive test, the highest figure since March, according to the official data.
The latest NHS data also shows there has been a slight rise in hospital admissions in England.
While some have suggested the data should show the impact of the July 19 unlocking in England by the end of this week, Professor Neil Ferguson – a member of the government’s Sage group – said it would be “several more weeks” before the effect is known.
Prof Ferguson warned of a “resurgence” in the virus in the coming weeks – but suggested that the worst of Britain’s pandemic could be over by the end of September.
“We’re not completely out of the woods, but the equation has fundamentally changed,” said Prof Ferguson. “I’m positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said that if more young people in the UK got vaccinated it would “help us all to move forward”.
The prime minister has been accused of blaming young people for relatively low vaccine take-up rates. He was said to have been “raging” about the issue, after figures showing about one-third of 18- 29-year-olds in England have not been vaccinated.
Asked whether students would need to be fully vaccinated to attend lectures, the PM said: “I think that the young people of this country are doing an incredible job of coming forward to get vaccinations.”
He added: “The figures are outstanding. It’s almost 70 per cent now of 18 to 20 year-olds who have come forward to get jabs. It’s just wonderful.”