Herd immunity from Covid-19 “may be in sight” in the UK thanks to a combination of high vaccination and infection rates, a leading economic think tank has declared.
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), which made the claim in its latest fortnightly assessment of data on the pandemic, said that the end of the Euro football championships was a significant factor in the big drop in cases.
“After the Euros spike, herd immunity may be in sight,” the think tank said, pointing to the lack of social distancing that occurred in both Scotland and England when fans gathered in pubs and homes to watch matches.
The study came amid growing calls for Boris Johnson to end the “pingdemic” of double-jabbed people being forced to isolate after contact with Covid cases.
The phrase “herd immunity” was first raised last spring by government scientists but has never again been repeated following criticism that it could imply letting the virus rip through communities without controls.
But with a recent dramatic drop in cases over the past week, ministers believe that having more than 70% of the adult population fully vaccinated is finally having a major impact on transmission of the virus.
NIESR pointed out two weeks ago that the peak of the third wave of the pandemic looked close in regions like the North West.
In its latest bulletin on Thursday, it said: “It would appear that a large enough proportion of the population is currently immune, due either to vaccination or prior infection, thereby reducing the probability of transmission between persons.”
The study stressed that identifying different factors for the third wave was difficult.
But it said that “the breakdown of social distancing in the run up to important matches in the European football tournament” were most relevant for increasing numbers, countered by schools breaking up and warm weather.
Dr Craig Thamotheram, Senior Economist for Macroeconomic Modelling and Forecasting, said: “Across nations, regions, local authorities and age brackets the past week’s data show a big reduction in cases after an increase that was probably related to the increased social interaction from Euro 2020.
“Taken together with the high proportion of immune adults, either through vaccination or infection, we are seeing declines in cases at a faster rate than after the winter peak.”
Earlier this week, one unnamed minister told the Daily Mail the vaccination programme, coupled with more than 5.7million infections, meant the virus was struggling to find new hosts and some kind of population immunity had effectively been reached.
“It is all over bar the shouting, but no one has noticed,” the minister said. “Of course we have to guard against the emergence of some terrible new variant. But otherwise Covid is on the point of becoming something you live with.”
Boris Johnson has himself urged caution, saying it is “far too early to draw any general conclusions”.
But Imperial College London Professor Neil Ferguson, whose models drove the first lockdown and who had forecast 100,000 cases a day for August, said that the bulk of the Covid pandemic in the UK will finally be over by late September.
“I’m positive that by late September or October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic,” he said.
“We will have Covid with us, we will still have people dying from Covid, but we’ll have put the bulk of the pandemic behind us.”
Meanwhile, new figures on Thursday showed that the number of people being told to self-isolate has reached another record high, with almost 700,000 alerts sent to Covid app users in England and Wales.
The so-called “pingdemic” saw a further rise last week, with 689,313 alerts sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.
The latest NHS figures, for the week to July 21, are an 11% rise on the previous record high of 619,733 alerts a week earlier.
Downing Street has now confirmed that some 260 testing sites are open, while 800 more are “in the process” of being set up for support workers in critical industries.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “Following them, we will then establish the remaining 1,200 over the coming days.”
Daily negative test results will enable eligible workers, including those in prisons, waste collection, defence, the food industry, transport, Border Force and police and fire services, who have been alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app or called by NHS Test and Trace as coronavirus contacts to continue working.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.