A single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine provides 67 per cent protection against infection, data from the Zoe Covid Symptom Study App has found.
The positive findings suggest that the government’s policy of delaying the second jab appears to be working, raising hopes that restrictions should be able to be reduced within weeks.
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Epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, said that Covid-19 cases had dropped by 80 per cent since the start of January, with hospital admissions reducing by 60 per cent.
There has also been a 50 per cent drop in the number of people in hospital with coronavirus.
Prof Spector said this shows the R rate of infection has been “persistently” below one during this period, and a single vaccine dose was providing 46 per cent protection after two weeks, rising to 67 per cent after three weeks.
He said: “It’s still preliminary, we are still analysing the results. It’s looking very promising and the government’s approach of delaying the second shot in order to get more people vaccinated looks like it’s paying off.
“It currently means we are in a similar state as we were in October and if we look at the trajectory at where we are going, in a couple of weeks we are going to be where we were in May or June.
“There will be a prevalence of symptomatic cases of less than one in 500 which in my view, we should be able to reduce some of the restrictions, and I am particularly concerned we get kids back to school for as long as possible because of the known long-term negative effects of that.”
Prof Spector also added that he no longer watched the government’s daily briefings as he felt the statistics were not presented in context, particularly in regard to the death rates.
He said: “It’s very sad people die of anything. Yesterday around 600 people died of Covid but on a normal day in February 1,500 people die of heart disease, strokes, cancer etc or the flu.
“This has got a lot of people extremely anxious and are petrified to leave their homes and may have problems coming out if we do not put those statistics into context.
“People are dying of Covid but people die of other things. I would like to see less fear-mongering.”
When could restrictions change?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out the roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in the week commencing 22 February, which will outline the various stages for reopening the country.
However, the plan is not expected to state what date each step will be taken, as this will be dependent on the number of cases and the R rate.
Mr Johnson has said he is “optimistic” about the prospects of setting out plans for easing lockdown restrictions in England later this month, and while the overall number of Covid-19 cases remains high, the infection rate is starting to fall and the vaccination programme rollout has made “huge progress”.
The vaccine rollout successfully met the deadline of offering everyone in the top four priority groups, including the over 70s, their first dose by 15 February, with the PM stating that the efficacy of the vaccines is helping to drive down infection rates, which is a key factor in determining how quickly England will be able to ease restrictions.
Other than the proposed date of 8 March for the reopening of schools, the timescale for other measures is still being debated and is yet to be confirmed.
Prof Spector said that he would be happy for schools in some regions, particularly rural areas, to return earlier than the proposed 8 March date and especially for younger children who pose “very little risk to themselves or others”.
He also said that he expects face masks and other social distancing restrictions to be required in some situations for the longer term.
Once children are back in school, it is thought that the government’s main priority will be looking to relax the restrictions on outdoor recreational activity, with reports suggesting that adults will be allowed to meet up socially with someone from another household in outdoor public spaces.
Ministers are also said to be considering allowing two people from different households to play outdoor sports, such as golf and tennis, from the end of next month.
Providing infection rates and the R rate continue to fall, it is expected that the next step will be to allow non-essential retail businesses to reopen, with the Rule of Six reintroduced for outdoor socialising. It is thought that hospitality businesses will be able to serve people outdoors after this.