The key scientist advising the government as part of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group said he is “hopeful” that the nation could be in its “final lockdown”.
His comments came as the Prime Minister faced pressure from Tory MPs not to delay the timetable for easing lockdown.
Mr Johnson’s “road map” for easing England’s third national lockdown is due out in the week starting February 22, with March 8 earmarked for a wide reopening of schools.
Prof Ferguson, the Imperial College London academic whose modelling was crucial in shocking Mr Johnson into imposing the first lockdown, said the nation is “in a better place than I might have anticipated a month ago”.
“The lockdown has really driven down cases quite fast,” he told Politico’s Westminster Insider podcast this week.
“They’re basically halving about every 17 days at the moment or so, and that means in a month’s time – the Prime Minister’s talked about potentially reopening schools, we might have some bandwidth to do that, at least primary schools.
“And if we continue to see then a continued decline without large outbreaks, then perhaps starting to relax other aspects of society the following month.”
Prof Ferguson estimated that around a third of the UK population now has some immunity to Covid-19, partly because so many people have been naturally infected and partly because of the vaccine rollout.
He acknowledged it will be “a bumpy road” and that “I’d be a fool to try and predict out six months” but that he believes the vaccines will start allowing restrictions to be eased.
But he echoed other scientists in cautioning that social distancing measures must be relaxed slowly in order to prevent another spike in infections.
“I’m hopeful it will be the final lockdown, so long as we are relatively cautious in coming out of this lockdown,” Prof Ferguson said.