27/07/2021 10:54 BST

Bulk Of Covid Pandemic Will Be Over By Late September, Professor Neil Ferguson Predicts

‘Professor Lockdown’ sparks hope that autumn will see the back of the worst of the crisis

Neil Ferguson

The bulk of the Covid pandemic in the UK will finally be over by late September, according to the leading scientist whose modelling sparked the country’s first lockdowns.

Imperial College London’s Professor Neil Ferguson said that Britain’s high vaccination rates had “fundamentally changed” the fight against the virus

Ferguson, who is a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that advises Boris Johnson, said it is still “too early to tell” what effect the PM’s July 19 easing of restrictions would have, and stressed that continued “caution” is needed.

But in remarks that will cheer many hoping for the beginning of the end of the pandemic in the UK, the man dubbed “Professor Lockdown” in the early days of the pandemic suggested that the worst was now over.

“We’re not completely out of the woods, but the equation has fundamentally changed,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The effect of vaccines is hugely reducing the risk of hospitalisations and death. And I’m positive that by late September or October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.

“We will have Covid with us, we will still have people dying from Covid, but we’ll have put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.”

Scientists are still trying to work out the cause of a recent dramatic fall in the number of people testing positive for Covid in the UK, with a sustained drop by nearly half over the past six days.

Among the reasons are the end of the Euro football championships, which sparked a spike in cases among men gathered in pubs and homes, the recent heatwave and the ongoing impact of rising vaccination preventing transmission of the virus.

However, hospitalisation rates lag behind case numbers and figures were still rising as of the start of this week.

Prof Ferguson, the epidemiologist who had modelled a possible 100,000 cases a day for coming weeks, said he was pleased if slightly puzzled by the drop to around 24,000 daily cases this week.

“We won’t see for several more weeks what the effect of the unlocking is. We need to remain cautious, especially with the potential increase in contact rates again as the weather becomes less fine and schools return,” he said.

“Clearly the higher we can get vaccination coverage, the better - that will protect people and reduce transmission - but there is going to be remaining uncertainty until the autumn.”

Professor Jason Leitch, National Clinical Director of the Scottish government, also said that his country’s “dramatically falling” Covid cases were in part due to the Euro 2020 effect, after Scotland dropped out of the competition.

“The Scotland-England game gave us a spike because of travel, not necessarily Wembley. Unfortunately, from a sporting perspective, Scotland went out far too early. But epidemiologically speaking, that probably did us some favours,” he said.

“We tested a lot of these fans and for a short time (cases) went from 1:1 male-female to 9:1 male-female. It has now returned to 1:1.”

But NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, has written Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, health secretary Sajid Javid and NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, to say a combination of pressures were being experienced by the health service.

A total of 5,055 patients were in hospital with Covid-19 in England on Monday.

This is up 33% from the previous week and the highest since March 18, but still well below levels seen in the second wave of the pandemic.

A Number 10 spokesman said on Monday that the fall in coronavirus cases was “encouraging” but numbers were still expected to rise.