Cases of Covid in Scotland appear to have started falling since the country bowed out of the Euros, experts say.
Scientists said the trends suggested that rises in England could begin to fall a few weeks after Sunday’s final.
Latest data from Imperial College London suggests that cases in England have recently been doubling every six days, which could lead to rates exceeding 100,000 a day by July 19.
Researchers said the timing of the rise and gender differences of those infected – with women for the first time less likely to be infected with Covid – suggest it was being fuelled by groups of men watching football.
Cases in Scotland, England and Wales all began to surge 10 days after their first games, figures show.
However, scientists have said that the latest data from Scotland raises hope for the rest of the UK, with trends levelling off now that the country has left the competition.
Nicola Sturgeon has said that the recent surge in Covid infections in Scotland appears to be levelling off
Credit: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, said that the recent surge in new Covid infections appeared to be levelling off, with 2,802 cases recorded on Thursday – a drop from the 3,799 logged on Wednesday and the record 4,234 a week before.
Latest data for England shows the highest rates of Covid infection are now among those in their 20s, most of whom are unvaccinated or have only had one jab.
Cases are rising in all age groups and are now at their highest level in every region since at least February, the latest surveillance report from Public Health England shows.
Rates 22 times higher among those in their 20s than those over 80
But the rate of 614 cases per 100,000 people among those in their 20s is 22 times greater that of those aged 80 and over, and almost 10 times the rate among those aged 60 and over.
Experts have said the latest data gave some grounds for hope that cases may begin to fall away in the weeks after the finals.
Professor Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said case numbers in Scotland now appeared to be declining, having surged while the country was still in the Euros.
He said: "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that celebrations around the Euros have been an important factor in driving up the epidemic in the UK. On the bright side this may mean less pressure after the Euros are over."
A total of 2,802 Covid cases were recorded in Scotland on Thursday, down from the record of 4,234 last week
Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
"Case numbers may be declining in Scotland because the Euros are over and schools have been out for about a week so maybe we can expect an even more rapid decline and if so this may bode well for England after the 19th July. We will know one way or another in about three weeks’ time."
On Thursday 32,551 cases were reported in England, with little change from the day before, but hospital admissions rose from 386 to 456, with weekly numbers up by 52 per cent.
Ms Sturgeon on Thursday warned Scots not to expect the same level of freedom as the English, saying that Boris Johnson’s plans are the "exception" and face mask wearing is likely to continue.
The Prime Minister has promised to tear up most of England’s coronavirus regulations at Step Four of his road map on July 19, but Ms Sturgeon said many protections will be retained north of the Border.
Speaking at a Covid media briefing, she said it was "probable" that face coverings would continue to be a legal requirement in settings such as shops and public transport.
Although she acknowledged they are hated by many, she said "we cannot simply throw all caution to the wind and no longer worry at all about rising levels of infection".
Despite insisting she was not criticising Mr Johnson’s decision to abolish them in England, Ms Sturgeon added: "My job is not to take the easy decisions in a quest for popularity."
She also expressed concern that the "domination" of media coverage of Freedom Day in England could "confuse the message here", leading to Scots abandoning rules that still apply north of the border.
Her intervention came as she dropped further hints she may water down or postpone parts of her plan to move Scotland to the lowest Level 0 of lockdown on July 19, before abolishing all main Covid restrictions on August 9.
Ms Sturgeon said the decisions she will announce next Tuesday in a statement to Parliament "needn’t always be binary", with some planned changes going ahead but others held back.
However, Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, accused her of leaving people and businesses "in limbo" by creating a potential "Level 0.5".
Ms Sturgeon said the recent surge in cases may be tapering off and this gave her optimism the July 19 changes could go ahead. Social distancing outdoors is also scheduled to be abolished on this date.
‘No abrupt end to basic protective measures’
But she warned: "It’s important I think to remind all of us that a move to Level 0 does not mean the immediate end of all restrictions.
"Many of the baseline measures like face coverings, physical distancing, hand hygiene and advising on ventilation, these are going to continue to be important mitigations to protect us and others from the virus for some time yet.
"No matter what our decision is next week, there won’t be an abrupt end to these basic protective measures when we do move to Level 0."
Although she said the UK Government’s plans for England were "entirely a matter for them", she added: "A path of not just lifting all restrictions from July 19 but also removing the requirement for basic mitigations like face masks, and doing so against the backdrop of sharply increasing case numbers, is something of an exception."
But Mr Ross said: "She has now potentially created a Level 0.5 in her own route map, which undermines the plans she outlined only a few weeks ago.
"People and businesses who are continuing to make sacrifices are understandably excited about what restrictions will be eased in less than a fortnight."