Axing Plan B measures will slow the rate of decline of coronavirus cases, but there is “cautious optimism” the UK can continue to make good progress, a leading expert has said.

Professor Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told the PA news agency that several datasets now show that Covid infections are in decline.

“There’s one caveat and that’s obviously younger age groups… we are still seeing an increase in infection rates in primary age children,” he said.

“Perhaps that is unsurprising because, obviously, they are a relatively susceptible population compared with older age groups… we need to remember secondary school children are at least semi-vaccinated.”

Prof Tildesley said there was “still a little bit of uncertainty” over what will happen over the next couple of weeks and “whether we are going to see a surge in infections in primary schools over the next couple of weeks that then turns around and follows what we’re seeing in older age groups… I think we need another week or two, really, to see exactly what’s going to happen”.

He said that “probably within a week or two” the rate of infection among younger age groups will slow down “but I think there’s still some uncertainty”.

Asked about Plan B, Prof Tildesley said any relaxation of interventions “would slow down” the rate of decline in cases.

He added: “The hope is that relaxation will not result in a significant reduction in the rate of decline.

“I think the biggest uncertainty is people’s behaviour  – how will people behave? Will they relax their precautionary behaviour as a result of the change in measures? I think there’s a big uncertainty around what the response will be to that change in measures.”

He said relaxing Plan B measures would increase the reproduction number (the R) and it was unclear what would happen next.

He added: “The big question is – and I don’t know the answer to this – if you take away Plan B measures, and if people start mixing again, does that send R back above 1?

“If it does, you’ll get another peak but if …increasing mixing increases R but it stays below 1, then you won’t get another peak, but you’ll just get a slower decline in cases. And that’s the big question that we don’t definitively know the answer to.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Asked if the end of the pandemic was in sight, Prof Tildesley said: “You can never rule out that a new variant might come along that is more transmissible and more severe.

“My hope is that doesn’t happen. I can be cautiously optimistic based upon what we’re seeing that cases are declining and hopefully that trend will continue.

“So if we continue to observe what we’ve been observing over the last couple of weeks, then we could say that it looks like the end is in sight, but it’s very dependent upon a new variant not emerging that we are concerned about.

“Hopefully, that doesn’t happen and there’s no evidence at the moment that will happen but, of course, there’s always a risk.”