With coronavirus case numbers continuing to fall, some experts are calling for an earlier exit from lockdown than the current timetable.
Last week, Boris Johnson announced that COVID restrictions would be gradually relaxed in five-week periods, with all restrictions gone in England from the government’s target of 21 June.
However, fresh data has shown that the number of weekly registered coronavirus deaths in England and Wales has fallen by more than a quarter to the lowest level since the start of the year.
There were 4,079 deaths registered in the week ending 19 February where COVID-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the Office for National Statistics said.
This is down 28.3% and the lowest number of weekly registered deaths since the week ending 1 January.
The proportion of deaths that involved coronavirus has also fallen – from 37.1% to 29.5% in the latest period.
Now Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M), has said the data means the government should rethink its cautious approach.
He told The Telegraph: "The data are indeed looking better than the models were predicting and – to the best of my knowledge – better than anyone was expecting.
"If the phrase 'data-driven not date-driven' has any meaning, then it must allow for the schedule for relaxing restrictions to be brought forward if the data are better than expected and not just putting the schedule back if the data are worse than expected.”
However, other experts urged caution in changing course now.
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said there are still considerably more deaths from all causes than would be expected at this time of year, which “shows that we’ve still got a long way to go”.
Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said the continuing decline in deaths was “reassuring”, but warned: “We cannot afford to lose steam and would urge the government to maintain its cautious approach, especially as some local authority areas report slight increases in cases, and as the more transmissible Brazilian variant found in the UK is a cause for concern.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak also insisted the government would not change the current path out of lockdown, despite encouraging data.
He told Sky News: "What we want is a cautious but irreversible approach.
"Those will be the earliest dates that we think we can do the various things we've laid out.”
Watch: How England will leave lockdown