COVID-19 cases are petering out in London and the nationwide death rate is falling steadily as ministers prepare to let most shops reopen within a fortnight.
For the past two weeks, there have been fewer than 100 new confirmed cases per day in the capital — once the UK epicentre of the crisis — with only 21 on Tuesday.
And across the country, about 30 per cent of NHS trusts have reported no deaths at all for 48 hours. The grim toll of confirmed virus fatalities rose by 338 yesterday to 36,042.
But the rate of increase has slowed for six Thursdays in a row since April 9, when there were 1,103 deaths reported.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said ‘we can start moving to the next phase’ of the lockdown exit. From as early as June 1, shops could be allowed to reopen and primary schools could welcome back reception, year one and year five pupils.
But police urged the public to keep sticking to social distancing rules this bank holiday weekend, when much of the country is expected to be bathed in sunshine.
‘Personal responsibility is now key — think carefully about where you are going and how you will be able to keep your distance from others,’ said Ch Supt Thom McLoughlin, of Cleveland Police.
‘Keep in mind the purpose of the regulations and the national effort to protect the NHS and save lives.’
The virus’s reproduction or ‘R’ rate — how many others an infected person passes it to — is down to just 0.4 per cent in London and 0.75 across England.
The north-west now has 24,000 cases, just 2,000 fewer than London, and is recording new ones at three times the rate of the capital. But Mr Hancock said the five-stage exit plan can remain on track as long as the national R rate is falling.
‘The goal is to keep the number of new cases coming down while lifting social distancing measures as much as is safely possible,’ he told the daily Downing Street press briefing.
Prof Carl Heneghan, of Oxford university, told BBC Radio 4: ‘Across the country, about 30 per cent of all trusts have had no deaths in the last 48 hours. The numbers are coming down, it’s disappearing at a rate that’s speeding up, which is highly reassuring.’
Iconic London department store Fortnum & Mason reopened its food halls as the capital’s recovery continued. But mayor Sadiq Khan dismissed calls for the city to resume normal life more quickly than other areas.
‘We should have a national response,’ he told Sky News. ‘We’ve tended to be two weeks ahead of the rest of the country but we don’t want to have a false sense of complacency that could lead to a second peak.’
The London borough of Camden is one of ten areas around the country expected to trial the contact tracing scheme before it goes live on June 1.
And Mr Hancock said a new virus test was being tried out that gives a result ‘on the spot’.