Britain is on track to achieve herd immunity against coronavirus on Monday, according to the latest modelling by University College London (UCL).
The UCL research, seen by The Telegraph, estimates that almost three-quarters of people in the UK will have immunity from the virus either through vaccination or previous infection by 12 April.
The Scientific Advisory Groups for Emergencies (Sage) has previously stated that 75 per cent of people in Britain need to be vaccinated for the UK to achieve herd immunity.
Separate data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week suggested that around 54 per cent of people in England already had antibodies to the virus in the week to 14 March.
Since then, a further 7.1m people have received a first dose of the vaccine, while the UK has reported more than 100,000 new infections.
Professor Karl Friston of UCL told The Telegraph: “The herd immunity estimates surprised me. However, they are unremarkable when one considers that over 50 per cent of adults have been vaccinated, around 42 per cent of people have now been exposed to the virus and about 10 per cent have pre-existing immunity.
“When factoring in the estimated efficacy of vaccination in terms of sterilising immunity, this — according to the model — means about 70 per cent of the population are immune.”
Friston added that it meant the UK is “nearly at the herd immunity threshold” based on contact rates at the beginning of the pandemic.
But health secretary Matt Hancock played down the suggestion this morning, insisting that England must stick to the Prime Minister’s roadmap for exiting lockdown.
Hancock told LBC: “Well I was told by some scientists that we were going to have herd immunity in May and then in June and then after that.”
“What I prefer to do is watch the data. We’ve set out the roadmap. The roadmap is really clear — it is our route back to normal. We are on track to meet the roadmap and that is our goal.”
He warned that a “really appalling” resurgence in cases across other parts of the world underscored the need for the UK to unlock restrictions gradually.
More than 31.7m people in Britain have received at least a first dose of the vaccine so far, including 5.7m who are now fully vaccinated.
Scientists at Imperial College London said this morning that the nation’s largest ever vaccination programme is beginning to “break the link” between Covid cases and deaths, with infections slumping rapidly across the country.