An expert has said that social distancing should be able to be relaxed in June, after a new study showed a single vaccine cut coronavirus transmission by half.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, suggested the decision on whether social distancing would be needed going into the summer months could be a political one.

But he said vaccines meant that most people weren’t falling seriously ill and he was hopeful hugs would be allowed by June 21.

It comes as a new study from Public Health England shows that a single dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines can slash virus transmission by up to half.

The breakthrough findings offer further hope that the pandemic can be brought under control as vaccinated people are far less likely to pass the virus onto others.

The study found that those given a single dose of a jab, and who became infected at least three weeks later, were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to people living in their homes, compared to those who were unvaccinated.

Speaking on Times Radio, Dr Tildesley was asked at what stage people will be able to be close to another person, such as a family member, if both have been vaccinated.

He said: “I think this is really difficult because of course, in a sense, this becomes more of a sort of a political decision rather than an epidemiological decision because we have been told that on June 21 all of these legal limits on contact will be removed, but it’s still unclear exactly what that means.

“Whether that means that on that date some social distancing will be in place or whether all of those will be removed and you’ll be able to go and hug your loved ones.

“I think the key thing is that if you’re both vaccinated, of course, it does reduce the risk of anyone becoming severely ill and my hope is that as we move towards that June date, we will be in a position that we can not just see our loved ones, but also we can hug our loved ones because it’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to do that.”

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He said there was a need for ongoing monitoring of the situation, including of what happens when people are allowed to mix indoors again.

From May 17, up to two households, or six individuals from other households (the rule of six), should be able to meet inside.

The Government has also committed to update the advice on social distancing and hugging by step three of the roadmap, scheduled for May 17.

Dr Tildesley said: “We obviously do need to monitor the data as we get to the main relaxation, when you are allowed to go inside people’s households, it’s really important that we monitor that data and ensure that we don’t get a resurgence at that point.”

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