Fears over devastating third COVID wave in UK are 'diminishing', says Prof Neil Ferguson

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, speaking by video link to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said he was “feeling fairly optimistic" about the prospect of returning to some normality in the summer. (PA Images)

Concerns over a deadly third wave of coronavirus in the UK in late summer and early autumn are “diminishing”, a top epidemiologist has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling informs government scientists, said the data on deaths and cases was looking “very encouraging”.

He added that the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on transmission meant a more positive outlook for later in the year.

On Monday, government figures revealed that only one coronavirus death was confirmed in the latest 24-hour period.

A NHS staff prepares to administer the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a member of the public at a vaccination centre in London. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
An NHS staff member prepares to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in London. (PA)

Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday: “The data is very encouraging and very much in line with what we expected.

“Whilst we’re seeing cases actually plateau at the moment – and they may start edging up – mortality, deaths and hospitalisations are still going down.

Watch: UK reports one further COVID death in 24-hour period

“We expect them to continue to go down, maybe tick up a little bit next month but only within manageable levels, and so that puts us in a very good position to be keeping to the government roadmap – relaxing some restrictions in a couple of weeks’ time and then many more in June.”

Prof Ferguson said his team still have some concerns about late summer and early autumn but “they’re diminishing”.

He said: “If we’re going to see another wave of transmission that’s where it would take place, but the data on the vaccines is getting ever more encouraging, particularly the new data which was released just over a week ago about the fact that vaccines, even if you do get infected if you’ve been vaccinated you’re less infectious.

“And so that has pushed our estimates of the scale of any potential autumn wave down.”

Prof Ferguson also said British holidaymakers could visit safely European destinations such as France and Italy this summer if cases there can be driven down to UK levels.

It comes after the European Commission said it would ease restrictions on travel amid progressing vaccination campaigns and lower infection rates.

The EU is proposing to allow travellers who are fully vaccinated to visit for tourism purposes.

However MPs are warning that holidays abroad should still be discouraged even if they are legal in order to prevent vaccine-resistant variants being brought into the UK.

The all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus said in a report: "The UK government should discourage all international leisure travel to prevent the importation of new variants into the UK, in order to reduce the risk of a third wave and further lockdowns."

The UK government’s “green list” of countries to which people can travel without having to isolate for 14 days on their return is also expected to be released in mid-May.

International trade secretary Liz Truss urged people on Tuesday to wait for an announcement before booking a holiday.

She told Sky News: “I would encourage people to wait until we make that announcement so that we can see exactly what the details are, based on the data, because what we don’t want to be doing is reimporting this virus after we’ve done such an excellent job in getting the levels down in the UK… we need to be cautious and we need to make sure that we’re not simply importing the virus after we’ve successfully dealt with it in Britain.”

Watch: EU eyes letting vaccinated travellers enter its borders