Britain’s Covid alert level was downgraded to three today because of the success of the vaccination roll-out and dwindling case numbers.
Health chiefs say infections, hospital admissions and deaths have ‘fallen consistently’ over the past few months, with social distancing measures and the huge inoculation drive to thank.
The move to downgrade the alert level — agreed by all four of the UK’s chief medical officers and a senior NHS official — means the coronavirus is now only in ‘general circulation’ and transmission is no longer ‘high or rising exponentially’.
It will inevitably be used as fuel for scientists and Tories desperate for a quicker return to normal.
The Prime Minister has been repeatedly urged to stick to his ‘data, not dates’ pledge for easing restrictions in England, despite refusing to budge in the face of very low infection rates and a hugely successful vaccination drive. Deaths have fallen into single figures while cases are at similar levels to September.
Boris Johnson will tonight unveil a major loosening of lockdown on May 17, using a 5pm press conference to say the immunisation campaign has given him room to manoeuvre.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes across England will be able to seat customers inside again while gatherings of up to six people or two households will be allowed indoors. Hotels, B&Bs, cinemas, theatres and museums are to reopen while limits on funeral mourners are scrapped.
With one in three adults now having had two jabs, friends and relatives are also expected to be able to hug for the first time in a year.
In a round of interviews this morning, Health Minister Nadine Dorries said: ‘I am hopeful that we will all be hugging and kissing again soon indoors.’
Ms Dorries also set hares running by seeming to suggest the June 21 date for ending lockdown altogether could be brought forward — although No10 insisted Mr Johnson will not be making any announcements on that tonight. ‘It is data, not dates and the data is very good,’ Ms Dorries said.
The Covid Recovery Group (CRG) — a group of around 70 Tory MPs — today called for Mr Johnson to commit to scrapping all social distancing measures on June 21 to ensure the nation is ‘truly on the “one way road to freedom” that the Prime Minister promised’.
Sir John Bell, Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine, said England was in a ‘very strong position’ to move forward with the easing of restrictions which will enable people to ‘try and get back to normal’. He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme the prospect of people being able to hug their loved ones again was ‘great’.
On the Government’s ultra-cautious roadmap, he said: ‘I think we’ll still probably go steady but perhaps a bit faster, I’ll be interested to see what the Government announces. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with where we are at the moment.’
Legislation in the Queen’s Speech tomorrow will be directed at the nation’s recovery from Covid, backing the NHS and spreading opportunity.