Boris Johnson has insisted “nothing is in the data right now” to prevent an end to Covid-19 restrictions in England later this month as the rate of deaths related to the virus hit its lowest level in eight Months.
However, the prime minister warned caution and said there was “no talk” of an increase in infection rates.
Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show 9,860 deaths from all causes recorded in the week ending May 21, of which 1.1% (107 deaths) had a “new coronavirus” mentioned on the death certificate .
The last time the proportion was so low was in the week of September 11th, when the virus accounted for 1.0% of deaths, according to an analysis by the PA news agency.
At the height of the second wave, in the week ending January 29, Covid-19 accounted for 45.7% of recorded deaths.
The numbers come on the same day that it was confirmed that 75% of British adults across the UK had now had their first coronavirus vaccination and 50% of adults in England had received both doses.
A total of 39,585,665 first doses have been given since the vaccination started almost six months ago.
This corresponds to 75.2% of all people aged 18 and over.
Debate on whether the final phase of lifting restrictions in England can continue on June 21st continues amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus variant first identified in India.
Mr Johnson said Wednesday that “there is nothing in the data at the moment, which means we cannot move on to the next phase”.
But he warned: “We have to be so careful because no question about it, the ONS data on infection rates are showing an increase.
The Prime Minister said: “We always knew this was going to happen, don’t forget, we have always said the unlocking steps we were taking would lead to an increase in infections.
“We need to find out to what extent the vaccination program has protected enough of us, especially the elderly and vulnerable, from a new surge.
“And there, I’m afraid, the data is simply still ambiguous.”
However, a reduction in reported deaths and vaccination success could give ministers confidence to ease restrictions.
Government figures based on people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 show no Covid-19 deaths were reported in the UK on Tuesday.
Latest vaccine numbers show 2,152,709 initial doses were administered in Wales, representing 85.3% of the adult population.
This is well ahead of the UK’s other three nations, with England now 74.7% (33,085,145 first doses), Scotland with 74.1% (3,286,261 first doses) and Northern Ireland with 73.1% (1,061. 550 first cans).
These figures were published by the four UK health authorities.
They also show that an estimated 49.5% of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, including half (50.0%) of adults in England.
In Scotland, an estimated 47.5% of adults have received both doses, along with 46.5% in Northern Ireland and 45.1% in Wales.
The vaccination program in England will be expanded to all adults within a few weeks, while in Wales and Northern Ireland anyone aged 18 and over will be able to book their vaccinations.
In Scotland, people over the age of 18 are invited to sign up for a jab with dates starting in mid-June.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the Global Vaccine Confidence Summit in Oxford on Wednesday: “There is sky high confidence in the vaccine program across the UK.
“We continue to top the list of places where people are ready to take or have taken a Covid vaccine – about nine out of ten of us.”
NHS England Director of the NHS Vaccination Program, Dr. Emily Lawson said: “Today marks another major milestone in the NHS Covid-19 vaccination program as half of adults in England are now fully vaccinated while three quarters have received a first dose.
“Thanks to NHS staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to get vaccinations up their arms, more than 55 million doses have been administered since the NHS stabbed the first person in the world outside of a clinical trial in December, and thousands of lives have saved.
“The Covid-19 vaccine is our most powerful weapon against the coronavirus and there has never been a more important time to protect yourself. So if you are contacted by the NHS, please book your life-saving vaccination or bring your second dose of vital protection. “
Separate data from NHS England showed the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in England is down 98% from the peak of the second wave.
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suspended plans to ease restrictions across much of the country.
It announced Tuesday that while parts of the country will move to Level 1 of the Scottish Government’s restrictions from Saturday, much of the central belt, including Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow, will be kept at Level 2.
Ms. Sturgeon said the country is still at a “sensitive and fragile point” in the fight against the virus in an announcement on restrictions that she described as a “mixed bag”.
Scotland’s national clinical director, Jason Leitch, warned that the Indian variant “is challenging us and is spreading faster than we hoped”.
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the current numbers “don’t look too intimidating,” but they have “a few more weeks of play” before the government takes theirs final decision will be made as to whether the reopening can take place in England on June 21st.
He said, “I think the win is now, we can vaccinate more people in younger, younger age groups to try and stop more transmissions.”