People should not “run away with premature conclusions” despite falling Covid cases, Boris Johnson has urged, as he warned the situation could deteriorate again within weeks.
Despite warnings from ministers and scientists that infections could soon rise to 100,000 a day, the figure has dropped significantly for six days in a row. The peak of 54,674 on 17 July had more than halved in the latest figure for Monday, down to 24,950.
Reasons attributed to the decline include the end of the Euros football tournament, the heatwave encouraging more people to socialise outside, English schools breaking up for summer and the vaccine rollout.
Johnson said the statistics were getting better but hinted cases would rise again given the final stage of his roadmap that lifted most legal restrictions only came into force on 19 July.
He said “people have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government”.
Johnson did not deny domestic vaccine passports could be required for students wanting to attend university lecturers next autumn or football fans who go to Premier League games when the next season begins in a matter of weeks, both moves the government is reportedly considering to entice more people to get jabbed.
He said it was “wonderful” almost 70% of 18-to-30-year-olds have got an injection, and stressed that more people coming forward to get vaccinated would “help us all to move forward”.
Stronger criticism of those who refuse to be vaccinated came from Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who accused them of being “selfish” for “putting other people’s health and lives at risk”.
He did not shy away from the idea of proof of inoculation being required at some venues, saying during a visit to a lab in Glasgow that if businesses “require a certain level of safety” from customers, then those who remain un-vaccinated by choice should not be surprised if they are “barred”.
“We’re going to do what’s right for public health and I think that Covid certification in certain limited venues and for certain limited events is a way of making people safer and giving more of us more freedom,” Gove added.
Prof Neil Ferguson, the epidemiologist whose modelling spurred the government into action at the start of the Covid pandemic, said the UK was not “out of the woods yet”.
He warned it would take several weeks before the effect of almost total unlocking would be felt – though admitted “the equation has fundamentally changed” due to the vaccines that are “hugely reducing the risk of hospitalisations and death”.
“I’m positive that by late September or October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic,” said Ferguson, who sits on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
“We will have Covid with us, we will still have people dying from Covid, but we’ll have put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.
“Clearly the higher we can get vaccination coverage, the better – that will protect people and reduce transmission – but there is going to be remaining uncertainty until the autumn.”
Ferguson’s comments to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme came as the national clinical director of the Scottish government, Prof Jason Leitch, described how the country’s case rate was “dramatically falling”. “We had five out of the top 10 local authorities in the UK, now we have none in the top 150,” Leitch told Today.
“We’ve now seen hospitalisations fall. Around 3% of positive people get admitted to hospital but they are now younger, relatively healthy and discharged quicker. But some stay, and we’ve had many deaths over the last few days.”
He said the participation of fans in Euro 2020 had caused a spike in cases and that Scotland being knocked out after the group stage “did us some favours”.
Meanwhile, there were warnings that the strain on the NHS should no sign of abating.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the pressure on hospital, community, mental health and administration services “feels as great as it did in January”.
Around 15,000 of 100,000 NHS beds had been lost due to measures to reduce transmission in patients, and the NHS was still doing “a whole bunch of different things at once” and “trying to recover all of those care backlogs at full pelt”, he told Sky News.
Hopson said there was also “record demand for urgent care” with “large numbers of staff self isolating”, and more off with stress and other mental health conditions.