Data modelling due over the coming days is hoped to confirm that the turning point in Britain’s pandemic is likely to come this summer. Ministers believe the peak could be reached next month as the disease rips through people who are unvaccinated and those who have only had a single jab.
After that, the number of new infections should come down, giving the country its greatest hope yet that the war against Covid is reaching an end.
Department of Health officials have reportedly coined the term “hybrid immunity” to describe the protection from vaccinating older, more vulnerable people, combined with a mixture of vaccinations and natural immunity in the young.
Senior sources have told the Standard that although different models give different timings, there is rising confidence that the releasing of restrictions on July 19 will not be reversed.
“The modelling will give a more accurate indication of when a peak will occur,” said a source. “Mid-August is broadly where we believe it will come. It will run through the unvaccinated and the single-dosed, but because such vast numbers of people now have antibodies and can resist it, it will then start falling off because it will run out of people to infect.” So far Britain has vaccinated 64.3 per cent of over-18s with two doses, which give around 92 per cent protection against serious illness, and delivered at least one dose to a total of 86.2 per cent.
Downing Street denies that “herd immunity” is a deliberate policy goal. However, ministers say there is “an element” of that in the situation being reached where a combination of natural immunity and herd immunity through vaccination will starve the virus of new hosts.
Any confirmation that numbers will start falling will give a huge boost for businesses, especially the battered hospitality sector.
A row deepened between hospitality firms and the Government over a decision to delay until August 16 the ending of self-isolation rules for fully vaccinated people who have been in close contact with carriers.
Restaurateurs said the rules would be a “absolute nightmare” leading to unnecessary staff absences. After August 16, vaccinated people will be allowed to test instead of isolate.
Rebecca Mascarenhas, co-owner of Elystan Street, Kitchen W8 and Church Road, said: “I’m furious, the self-isolation rules are making life a nightmare.
“The virus is rampant, it’s everywhere and if one member of staff comes into contact with anyone who is positive, even if they are perfectly well they have to stay at home for 10 days. It is making it impossible to run any sort of roster.”
Sam Harrison, owner of Sam’s Riverside in Hammersmith, said five of his front of house team were self-isolating on Monday.
“It’s an impossible situation, it’s pretty brutal at a time when we’re short of staff anyway. Last week I had people doing 60 to 70 hour weeks because they were picking up the hours of colleagues who were self-isolating.”
Leonid Shutov, owner of Bob Bob Ricard, in Soho, said: “There is still a lot of uncertainty so anything that makes life a bit more difficult is going to result in casualties.”
Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton said: “It’s a car crash, I’ve got three chefs off at the moment because they got pinged. I don’t see the benefit of it.”
Asked why double-vaccinated people will have to wait until August 16 before they no longer need to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid, Professor Christophe Fraser, from Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, told Times Radio: “It makes sense for me to continue to be cautious.
“At the moment the pandemic is growing exponentially. The different models have different projections, there’s considerable uncertainty at what stage it is going to peak.”
He added: “It’s been this race between the vaccine and the virus, and it’s gone incredibly well.
“We are seeing, thankfully, very low numbers of deaths, but we are seeing growing hospitalisation rates amongst young people.”