A further 1,730 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK today in a drop of a quarter on last week as England prepares to open shops, gyms and pubs tomorrow.
Today's case figure marks the lowest daily increase since September - and is a 24.7 per cent drop on the 2,589 recorded on this day last week.
Official figures also show a further seven people have died after testing positive for Covid-19 today - a decrease of 30 per cent on the ten deaths recorded last Sunday.
The decreasing figures will no-doubt pile pressure on Boris Johnson to accelerate his roadmap out of lockdown plans.
As it stands, six groups - or two households - can meet outside. But from Monday, outdoor pubs and restaurants, alongside non-essential shops, are to reopen their doors.
It follows warnings that unchecked Covid hotspots could lead to a third wave of the virus if the country reopens too quickly.
Official figures show an average of 30.7 cases per 100,000.
But five local authority areas, Wakefield, Barnsley, Mansfield, Corby and Clackmannanshire, have three times that figure. Twenty-eight have at least double.
Leeds University medical school Associate Professor Stephen Griffin said there are still 'far too many virus hotspots and not enough attention being paid to controlling infections that might spread from them'.
Parts of West Yorkshire, the Black Country and other regions still have high case figures but people can often not afford to isolate, Professor Griffin said, adding: 'We need to tackle that issue urgently or the virus will come back again.'
Unchecked Covid hotspots could lead to a third wave of the virus if the country reopens too quickly, scientists warn (file image)
Warwick medical school's Professor Lawrence Young told The Observer: 'We need a properly-funded system for quarantining infected people. We don't have that and we could head back into trouble again quite quickly.'
The scientists argue that waiting until more people are vaccinated would be a better approach.
Leeds University medical school Associate Professor Stephen Griffin said there are still 'far too many virus hotspots and not enough attention being paid to controlling infections that might spread from them'
Figures today revealed that more than 50 per cent of England's population are in areas where virtually no new Covid cases at all, as Boris Johnson faces calls to lift lockdown quicker.
Some 4,307 areas - with a total population of 34.5 million - have had so few Covid cases that Public Health England has not published their data for a month to protect the identities of the few people with positive tests.
The neighbourhoods - including parts of Devon and Cornwall - could have had two new cases but likely had none in the week up to April 4.
Meanwhile, 1,091 places - with a population of 8.2 million people - have had no data published since the end of February.
It follows reports that ministers are planning to use vaccine passports as a short-term 'bridge to freedom' before full herd immunity is achieved in the autumn.
Under the plans, all Covid-related restrictions would be relaxed as planned under Mr Johnson's roadmap on June 21 – but with the passports allowing the return of mass public gatherings in the summer.
This would include the return of capacity crowds for the start of the Premier League season in August.
Ministers are planning to use vaccine passports as a short-term 'bridge to freedom' before full herd immunity is achieved in the autumn - as plans would include the return of capacity crowds for the start of the Premier League season in August (stock image)
The 'Covid status certificates', which would show whether the bearer had recently tested negative for the disease or had antibodies either through a vaccination or past infection, would be discontinued when a large enough proportion of the community has immunity to coronavirus to halt its spread.
One report last week argued that this herd immunity had already been reached, but cautious Government projections currently put that point at the end of October.
The use of the passports is likely to be restricted to public gatherings such as sporting events or theatre productions, as the logisitics of using them for pubs and restaurants are proving to be formidable.
As one Cabinet Minister says: 'There may be some benefits. But when you look at the practicalities of implementing it, and the actual utility of implementing the system, it just isn't worth it.'
The 'Covid status certificates' would show whether the bearer had recently tested negative for the disease or had antibodies either through a vaccination or past infection (stock image)
Under the Prime Minister's roadmap, larger outdoor sports venues would be allowed to operate at up to 25 per cent capacity from May 17, with a maximum of 10,000 spectators, while Wembley Stadium will only have a maximum of 50 per cent capacity for the latter stages of the Euro 2020 matches in July. But passports could open the way for full-capacity events.
The Minister said: 'It may be the choice we're looking at is the opening day of the Premiership with 20,000 to 30,000 supporters without Covid passports, or starting the season with the passports or some other system with 60,000.
'It's obviously still a bit of a moveable feast, but on the current data we think we'll reach herd immunity some time in October. So the question is, what can we do to manage things like major events in the meantime?'
A senior Government source said: 'It is impossible to know for sure, because there are so many moving parts in this pandemic. The uncertainty is over winter and the potential for a resurgence, but the data is looking good at the moment.'
Under the Prime Minister's roadmap, larger outdoor sports venues would be allowed to operate at up to 25 per cent capacity from May 17, with a maximum of 10,000 spectators (Pictured: Crowds at Glastonbury)
Modelling by University College London last week suggested the proportion of the population with protection against the coronavirus had hit 73.4 per cent. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has stated that 75 per cent need to be vaccinated for the UK to achieve herd immunity.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock – keen not to slow the Government's vaccine rollout – played down the data, saying scientists had told him the threshold had not yet been reached.
More than 40 Tory MPs have opposed the idea, meaning Mr Johnson could struggle to get the plan through Parliament. Ministers have held talks with Israeli officials over importing the technology for its Green Pass scheme, which lets those who have been vaccinated or had Covid enter places such as concert venues and gyms.