Assessing the current situation, professor Van-Tam told a No 10 press conference: “We are really in very low levels that are comparable to where we were in September”.
“We are running as a typical seven-day average at just over 2,000 people testing positive per day,” he added. “My sense is that probably we are at or close to the bottom at the moment in terms of this level of disease in the UK.”
Professor Van-Tam stressed that during the peak in early 2021 not many people were vaccinated so the drop in cases, hospitalisations and deaths were due to the efforts of the British public during lockdown.
“The vaccine has undoubtedly helped in the later stages and there is good evidence that the death rate in the elderly has dropped faster than it has in the younger age groups and it has dropped faster than it did in the second wave, and that is undoubtedly a vaccine effect,” he said.
“What is important about these vaccines and the vaccine rollout is it really is the way out of getting into trouble of the same size and magnitude ever again, and that’s why it’s important that this job must get finished.”
On the possibility of a third wave of coronavirus in Britain, the deputy chief medical officer said that if the vaccine programme continues apace, “the third wave so to speak, might just be a third upsurge and much less significant”.
However, he said there likely to be “some twists and turns ahead” in terms of cases, adding: “I think we are essentially following a good dry line now but I don’t want us to run into any wet patches - that is going to be really critical in the next few weeks.”
Appearing alongside professor Van-Tam, the health secretary said the data pointed to the government being “on track” to further ease restrictions on 17 May, including some indoor mixing of households and the re-opening of pubs and restaurants indoors.
He said: “The data show that we are essentially precisely on track for where we expected to be at this point and that is obviously good news. It means we can follow the road map - and we look at the data all the time.
“The dates we set out are not-before dates because we want to see the impact of each step before the decision to take the next step.
“That’s why the road map has been structured the way it is, so that we can check that we are on track. The good news is that as far as the next step is concerned, which is in a few weeks’ time - and we’re going to keep monitoring the data - but as of today, we are on track for step three on May 17 and that is good news.”
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