Dame Angela, a member of the Government’s scientific advisory group Sage and also co-chairs the SPI-M Sage sub-group, added: “We do need to decide what level is acceptable, and then we can manage our lives with that in mind.”

Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said it would be wrong to attempt to get Covid cases to zero.

“If you take the view that no Covid death is acceptable or something of that order, you are writing a blank cheque to do any amount of harm by the measures you have implemented to try and control it,” he said, but added that the current data was pointing to “earlier unlocking”.

“I completely agree that we don’t want to be overly focused on dates – not at all,” he said. “We want to be focused on data. But the point I’d make about that is the data is going really well.

“The vaccination rollout is, I think, exceeding most people’s expectations. The transmission blocking potential is key. But so, of course, is its actual ability to protect against death and disease, and to keep people out of hospital, and those numbers are looking really good.

“My conclusion from that is if you’re driven by the data and not by dates, right now you should be looking at earlier unlocking.”

It comes as latest data shows that current death rates and hospitalisations are far lower than was projected by the Government’s scientific advisers.

Papers released by the Scientific Advisory Group on Medical Emergencies, dated last month, project around 800 deaths a day in England by mid-February, with 2,200 hospital admissions daily.  In fact, hospital admissions for the country have now reached a seven-day average of 1,497 – around one-third lower. 

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