Tuesday 4 May 2021 9:09 am

Coronavirus third wave fears 'diminishing' amid UK's rapid vaccine rollout

The likelihood of a major third wave of coronavirus infections in the UK is “diminishing” alongside Britain’s rapid vaccine rollout, one of the UK’s most senior scientists said today.

Markets responded positively to the news, with the FTSE up three-quarters of a per cent mid-morning.

Professor Neil Ferguson, member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he still expects cases and “to some extent” deaths to see a slight increase in the late summer as restrictions lift, but “at a much lower level” than in the second wave.

Read more: NHS plans vaccine rollout for secondary school children in September

Ferguson, whose modelling on Covid infections last Spring was crucial to the Prime Minister’s decision to enforce England’s first national lockdown, said “we don’t see any prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed” unless a new variant takes hold.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “The period we have still some concerns about, but they’re diminishing, is really late summer early autumn. 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 the new data which was released just over a week ago about the fact that even if you do get infected if you’ve been vaccinated you’re less infectious. And so that has pushed our estimates of the scale of any potential Autumn wave down.”

In a boost for hopes for holidays abroad this summer, the Imperial College London scientist said there would be “some opportunity” for international travel in the coming months.

However, he warned that the government needed to draw up a rigid plan for vaccine booster doses to ward off new Covid variants — “the one thing that could still lead to a very major third wave in the autumn”.

Almost 34.6m people in the UK have now received at least a first dose of the vaccine — more than half the British population.

Boris Johnson yesterday affirmed his confidence that England is on track for the next stage of reopening on 17 May, which will see the return of indoor hospitality, entertainment and possibly foreign travel.

Speaking during a campaign visit to Hartlepool, Johnson told reporters: “As things stand, and the way things are going, with the vaccine rollout going the way that it is… I think that we will be able to go ahead, [and it] feels like 17 May is going to be good.”

Read more: EU proposes letting in vaccinated Brits as MPs discourage foreign holidays

All social distancing measures are due to be scrapped on 21 June in the final stage of Johnson’s roadmap for leaving lockdown.

The PM said there was a “good chance of being able to dispense with the one-metre plus” rule from that date.

“That is still dependent on the data, we can’t say it categorically yet, we have got to look at the epidemiology as we progress, we have got to look at where we get to with the disease,” he added. “But that’s what it feels like to me right now.”