Dr David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy for Covid-19, has said there is now “light at the end of the tunnel” for the UK in tackling the disease.
His words come as national hospital admissions fell for the sixth day in a row on Monday, from 2,180 to 1,604.
However, admissions have continued to rise in the northeast, northwest and southwest, and the NHS has said it expects that trend to continue for the next one to two weeks.
The latest data shows a 38 per cent drop over the last seven days across the UK in the numbers testing positive for Covid-19, with 70,924 new cases reported on Sunday.
The figures come as ministers are expected to lift Covid restrictions next week after a review.
Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said it was “looking positive” that plan B measures could be lifted.
“If you look at infection rates, they remain high, hospitalisations is still high, touching 20,000 people in hospital, but it feels like they’re plateauing,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Professor Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said the latest case figures are “cautiously good news” and he hopes the country may have a “flu-type” relationship with the virus by the end of the year.
However, some members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies warned on Sunday that Covid is not yet at the endemic stage UK, and that even if that stage were reached, it does not mean the impact of the virus will be less severe in future.
Talking to Sky News on Monday, Dr Nabarro said: “Looking at it from a UK point of view, there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel… I think that it’s going to be bumpy before we get to the end.
“So even though it’s possible to start imagining that the end of the pandemic is not far away, just everybody be ready for the possibility that there will be more variations and mutations coming along, or that there will be further challenges, other surges of even Omicron coming.”
He warned there was a need to still be “respectful of this virus”, adding: “Do what you can to stop transmitting it. Do what you can to protect others from being affected by it. It’s not the common cold.
“I know people would like it to be, but [Covid] is a virus that has still some really unpleasant features. Let’s do our best to protect people from it if we possibly can.”
The comments come as the self-isolation period for people testing positive for Covid was cut to five full days in England.
Ministers had been under pressure to reduce the isolation period – previously seven days – to help address staff shortages across the economy and in public services.
The government said research showed that between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of people are still infectious by day six. But the percentage of those released while infectious falls to around 7 per cent if people have two consecutive negative tests and then leave isolation on day six.