The "flattening" of Covid case numbers is giving the UK a "sunnier outlook" for Christmas, a leading modelling expert has said.
Virus cases are currently on their longest unbroken decline since May, according to government data, despite a daily rise in cases on Thursday.
Dr Mike Tildesley, of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) advisory group, said the UK was heading in the right direction ahead of the festive season.
Last year, millions were forced to shelve their Christmas plans as Britain entered a third national lockdown, but having the whole family around the table looks likely this year.
Dr Tildesley said: "I think I’m certainly more optimistic than I was this time last year. Maybe you probably don’t feel I’m going far enough by saying that, but I’m certainly more optimistic than I was this time last year in that the vaccines are clearly here to help us.
"We always need to be careful because we know that Covid has thrown so many curveballs over the last 18 months now that if we start to see another variant of concern emerge where the vaccines are less effective or it’s much more transmissible again, then things could go in the other direction."
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He added that "in terms of what we’re seeing now, we compare this time November this year with last year, the trajectory is so much better, which then does put us in hopefully a much better position as we move towards the present".
While the University of Warwick professor said the UK could not rule out some tightening of measures, he stressed that it was "a long way away from talking about the idea of a lockdown".
"Hopefully more and more people keep going out to get the booster vaccines if we get high uptake in younger people with vaccines, we should hopefully have a much sunnier outlook as we move towards Christmas," he said.
Time for ‘Plan B’, says patients’ groups
Dr Tildesley’s comments came as patients’ groups called for the immediate activation of "Plan B" and the Army to be sent in to help ambulance services and relieve NHS pressures.
Rachel Power, the chief executive of the Patients Association, has written to the Health Secretary to call for the measures, which could see mandatory vaccine passports, face coverings and advice to work from home.
While Covid cases, deaths and hospitalisations are falling, the latest NHS data shows the worst Accident and Emergency performance on record, and heart attack victims waiting almost an hour for ambulances.
On Friday, Ms Power wrote to Sajid Javid to say: "The NHS is running red hot and a crisis is upon us. You cannot stand by while people are dying because they cannot get a hospital bed or ambulance crews are unable to reach them."
The charity called on the Government to request military back up for ambulance services, bring in "Plan B" and make an immediate investment in social care services "to prevent the NHS tipping over and all of us enduring a catastrophic winter".
"The NHS in Scotland has already called in military personnel to support it; we believe the military can play a significant role in supporting services in England and the Health Secretary should ask for their assistance immediately," the letter said.
New data out on Friday from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed around one in 60 people in private households in England had Covid in the week to Nov 6, down from one in 50 the previous week.
Map of UK’s seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority
One in 60 is the equivalent of about 925,400 people and is slightly below the proportion estimated to have the virus at the peak of the second wave in early January.
In Wales, around one in 45 people is estimated to have had Covid in the same week, down from one in 40 the previous week, which had been the highest since estimates began in July last year.
In Northern Ireland, the latest estimate is around one in 75 people, down from one in 65 the previous week and below the record high of one in 40 in mid-August, while for Scotland the latest estimate is one in 85, down from one in 80 the previous week and below September’s peak of one in 45.
When modelling the level of Covid infections among different age ranges in England, the ONS said rates have decreased in the latest week for all age groups except for those from school year 12 to age 24 and for people aged 35 to 49, where the trend is uncertain. Rates remained highest for those in school years seven to 11, at 4.8 per cent.