Politics

UK ‘very close’ to herd immunity as Covid fight rumbles on: ‘This is pretty much over’

Neil Ferguson: Bulk of pandemic will be ‘behind us’ by October

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And one scientist has gone so far as to predict: “This pandemic is pretty much over for the UK.” Coronavirus data published by the Government indicates a definite downward trend in the number of cases, with the seven-day average standing at 30,494 as of July 25 – the most recent data available – compared with a week earlier, when the figure stood at 47,695.7, in other words, a drop of 36 percent.

Daily cases rose for the first time since July 17 yesterday, up from 23,511 to 27,734 – but several scientists believe there is nevertheless light at the end of the tunnel.

University College’s Professor Karl Friston told the Telegraph: “We are currently close to – but not at – herd immunity, according to real-time estimates based upon dynamic causal modelling.

“We are currently close to – but not at – herd immunity, according to real-time estimates based upon dynamic causal modelling.”

Prof Friston believes the nation actually achieved herd immunity in the spring, only to slip back as a result of the onset of the more infectious delta variant.

As a result, the herd immunity threshold has been raised to 93 percent – but he estimated the UK population was tantalisingly near, at 87 percent.

He said: “But as witnessed by the recent decline in notification rates, we do not need to reach a herd immunity threshold to bring the effective R-number below one and, in principle, suppress viral transmission.”

Similarly, Dr David Matthews, who is a virologist specialising in coronaviruses at the University of Bristol, said: “In terms of herd immunity – by which we mean the virus has managed to reach everybody and therefore most people will have a level of immune memory – I suspect we’re very close to it.

“Assuming nothing truly spectacularly leftfield happens, then this pandemic is pretty much over for the UK.

“I suspect we will not see a major surge this winter, or any serious levels of fatalities.”

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The more Britain was able to “close the gap” on the ten percent who had not been vaccinated, the better everyone would be, he stressed, emphasising the importance of getting the jab.

Prof Matthews added: “I’ve worked on a lot of respiratory viruses and controversially I believe this virus isn’t a killer.

“Flu kills babies and old people and it’s quite capable of killing people who have had the vaccine, but the issue here is that collectively, as a species, humans have no memory of this virus, so everyone’s immune system is starting from scratch.

“That’s okay if you’re a child but not if you’re in your 50s, 60s and 70s and relying on the memory of previous viruses.

“I think we will eventually live in a world where you will meet this virus as a kid and develop immunity early. Reaching a truce with the virus is probably where we’re heading.”

Speaking yesterday, Imperial College’s Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), who had previously feared a summer peak of between 100,000 and 200,000 cases a day, struck a much more optimistic tone.

He said: “We’re not completely out of the woods, but the equation has fundamentally changed. 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.”

Speaking yesterday, Mr Johnson said the signs were “encouraging” but nevertheless urged caution about the possibility of the third wave having peaked.

He said: “The most important thing is for people to recognise that the current situation still calls for a lot of caution and for people just to remember that the virus is still out there, that a lot of people have got it, it still presents a significant risk.”

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