More than 38 million people in England live in areas that are recording almost no new cases of Covid-19, according to analysis carried out by The Times.

Scientific advisers to the government have said the figures signal that the schedule for lifting lockdown measures remained on track, it reported.

England is split into 6,800 areas, for the reporting of cases, each with an average population of around 8,200. The Times found that some 4,819 areas had had data suppressed – which Public Health England does for areas with fewer than three cases a week in order to protect privacy – indicating that these areas only reporting two, one or no cases for the week to 22 April.

Dr Mike Tildesley of the University of Warwick, who sits in the government’s Spi-M panel of disease modellers, said: “The road map for relaxation is on track but we need to ensure we monitor it at every stage as the country reopens to evaluate the impact of “unlocking society upon cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

“The vaccination campaign continues to be successful, so I hope that the road map can proceed on schedule. But it is really important we monitor the data over the next few weeks.”

Ministers are due to meet next week to decide whether the next step to ease restrictions will go ahead as planned on 17 May, which would see hospitality able to open for indoor trading for groups of six or two households.