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End of Britain's COVID pandemic might be near, epidemiologist Ferguson says

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LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - The end of Britain's COVID pandemic could be just months away as vaccines have so dramatically reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death, Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is betting that he can get one of Europe's largest economies firing again because so many people are now vaccinated, a decision which marks a new chapter in the global response to the novel coronavirus.

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has fallen each day for the six last days, though Johnson has stressed the pandemic is not over.

"We're not completely out of the woods but the equation has fundamentally changed," Ferguson, whose early 2020 modelling of the virus's likely spread alarmed governments across the world at the outset of the pandemic, told the BBC.

"The effect of vaccines has been huge in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death and I think, I'm positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic."

British COVID data shows that a recent spike of infections earlier in July has so far not led to a vast increase in deaths, which fell to just 14 on Monday, though the number of COVID patients in British hospitals has risen to 5,238.

Johnson's decision to lift regulations in England on July 19 in favour of restarting an economy damaged by a series of on-off lockdowns since March 2020.

If it pays off, Britain's example could offer a way out of the pandemic, though Johnson's gamble could be derailed by the possible emergence of a variant capable of resisting vaccines - or if ill people overwhelm the health service.

By October, Britain will "still have COVID with us, we'll still have people dying from COVID, but we'll put the bulk of the pandemic behind us," Ferguson said.

Britain has one of the highest official death tolls in the world, 129,460, though daily new cases, which in the current wave peaked at 54,674 on July 17, have fallen to 24,950 on Monday. (Reporting by Sarah Young and Alistair Smout; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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