Covid restrictions could be lifted earlier as lockdowns are causing damage, a top scientist has said.
Boris Johnson is expected to order the next step in the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions during a Downing Street press conference on Monday.
He will say that high vaccination rates, falling infections and plunging numbers of deaths mean Step Three of the roadmap out of lockdown can go ahead from May 17.
But it won't be until at least June 21 when all restrictions are set to end if Step Four of the roadmap is triggered.
Before then mask wearing in shops, on public transport and when walking around pubs, restaurants and cafes is all set to continue.
And social distancing in public areas will remain a requirement, even if the Government allow families to hug again from May 17 as is expected.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said the pace could be faster.
He said: “I think there is scope for moving more quickly. In my view, it could be safely accelerated.
"I’d go further and say that this has been the case for several weeks. I’d judge that the UK is already close to a point that we didn’t expect to have reached until late June."
Professor Carl Heneghan, director at the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford, said more thought should be given to more relaxations before June 21 as 'it’s going to be difficult to open everything up in a big bang.'
Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, said believes the rule of six could change to “anything up to 100” for people not living in a Covid hotspot.
“What we should be looking for is moving from rules and restrictions to informed individual judgments based on context and level of risk, which is now almost entirely of a relatively mild illness,” he added to the Telegraph.
Matt Keeling, professor of populations and disease at Warwick University, meanwhile, said he would prefer a more cautious approach after more restrictions end from next week.
He said: “There’s considerable uncertainty over how much the R number will increase after Step 3 of the relaxation roadmap and I would rather be cautious for a little while longer than risk a rise in cases and hospital admissions.”
The latest figures from Sunday reveal another 169,027 first doses of a Covid vaccine and 438,837 second injections had been administered.
Nearly 17.7 million people are now fully inoculated and more than 35.3 million have received their first jabs.
Another 1,770 positive Covid cases were recorded, as well as two more deaths registered, bringing the toll to 127,605.
Boris Johnson said on Sunday: “The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us.
“The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two-thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly.
“It’s because of the British public’s unwavering commitment that we are saving lives, protecting the NHS and controlling the virus.”