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Scientists urge caution after UK reports zero Covid-19 deaths

Warning comes as health secretary Matt Hancock hails “astounding success” of vaccination programme

Scientists have cautiously welcomed reports of a day with zero UK deaths from Covid-19, as the health secretary praised the country’s vaccination effort.

Official figures for 1 June showed that the UK’s four nations recorded no new deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test in the previous 24 hours. This is the first time the UK has recorded no Covid-related deaths since July 2020.

But as pressure mounts from some politicians to ease restrictions faster, researchers have urged caution following a 31.9 per cent increase in new infections to 3,165 over the past seven days.

“People should not get too excited about a report of zero deaths on a bank holiday or on the day after,” said Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia.

“Several of the sources of data on deaths are not searched on bank holiday weekends and so bank holiday Mondays and the following Tuesdays always report lower results than expected.”

Guarded welcome

Kevin McConway, a professor of applied statistics at the Open University, agreed that it was too soon to celebrate.

“Looking at deaths classified by the date the person died, and leaving out the most recent few days because the data will not yet be complete, there were no days of zero deaths between 11 March last year and now,” he pointed out.

Nevertheless, McConway added, the numbers of deaths were “certainly getting very low”, with official data putting the average number of deaths between 26 May and 1 June at about six a day, down from over 200 at the start of March.

“A lot of that huge fall must be because of vaccines protecting against serious illness and death, but some of it will also be due to the reduction in the amount of infection circulating, because of lockdowns and similar measures. It’s not really possible to say exactly how much is due to which of these causes.”

‘Astounding success’

According to the latest data, around 39.5 million people have now received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, while almost 26 million people have received their second dose.

At a G7 meeting of health ministers on 29 May, health secretary Matt Hancock hailed the success of the UK’s vaccination programme, following the announcement that Janssen’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine had been authorised for use by the UK’s medicines regulator, the Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

“Whether it’s researchers behind the science, volunteers valiantly taking part in trials, the NHS rolling out the jabs or the public playing their part to help bring cases down and protect themselves and their loved ones by following the guidance—this really has shown the best of what the British can do,” he said.