Hopes of lifting restrictions by May are looking up after new data showed Britain’s outbreak is shrinking every 14 to 17 days.
Random swab testing by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested positive Covid-19 cases in England had fallen by almost a fifth in a week.
Prof Neil Ferguson – dubbed Britain’s “Professor Lockdown” – said on current trends the country could see pubs and restaurants reopened by May.
Government sources admitted they were “very upbeat” about data released on Friday including a fall in the UK’s ‘R’ reproductive number.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies announced the range dropped to between 0.7 and 0.9 – confirming measures including hospitalisations and deaths also show a shrinking outbreak.
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The R range for the UK was between 0.7 and 1 last week.
Prof Ferguson – the expert behind the Imperial College London modelling which triggered the first national lockdowns – estimates that up to a third of Brits have now contracted.
He said restrictions could start being lifted in April suggested pubs and restaurants could start being reopened in May.
He told Politico: “We’re in a better place than I might have anticipated a month ago. The lockdown has really driven down cases quite fast.
“If everything plays out like our best estimates would suggest then by May timeframe I think it’s realistic to be in something akin to Tier 2, and maybe there are areas with very low incidence that would lead to Tier 1-type measures.
“Completely relaxing, and moving back to something akin to where we were in August which had some restrictions but much lighter, that will really depend on how we see the earlier relaxing play out.”
“In a month’s time — the Prime Minister’s talked about potentially reopening schools, we might have some bandwidth to do that, at least primary schools.
“And if we continue to see then a continued decline without large outbreaks, then perhaps starting to relax other aspects of society the following month.”
The academic, whose modelling feeds in to Sage, said he hopes Britain will be “basically back to normal” this time next year.
The ONS estimated that 695,400 people in England had Covid-19 in the week up to February 6. This was down almost a fifth on 846,900 the previous week.
Government scientists are now on board with gradually lifting restrictions over the next “two to three months”.
A source said: “The latest numbers have come down quite a lot. It’s quite a big fall over the time period.”
The ONS found one in 80 people in England would have tested positive for Covid-19 in the latest week, down from one in 65 the week before.
In Wales this was one in 85, down from one in 70 the previous week. In Northern Ireland the improvement meant one in 75 had the virus, down from one in 65.
Scotland is seeing its outbreak shrink from a much smaller starting point with one in every 150 people thought to have had the virus in the latest week. This was down from one in 115.
Around one in 80 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between January 31 and February 6, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – the equivalent of 695,400 people.
This is down from around one in 65 people for the period January 24 to 30.
London continues to have the highest proportion of people likely to test positive for coronavirus in any region of England, with around one in 60 people in private households estimated to have had Covid-19 between January 31 and February 6.
This is down from an estimated one in 45 for the period January 24 to 30.
For eastern England, the East Midlands, north-west England and the West Midlands, the latest estimate is one in 70 people.
The other estimates are one in 95 for Yorkshire and the Humber; one in 100 for north-east England and south-west England; and one in 105 for south-east England.
Sage released a document suggesting that Government scientists have confirmed that the dominant UK variant, first identified in Kent, produces more severe symptoms.
However its experts now believe it causes people to become infectious more quickly, but the time people spend ill is shorter.