A vaccine has been approved for use against Covid-19 in the UK, with widespread roll-out expected for those in high risk groups from next month.
But this doesn’t mean we will be able to eradicate the disease, an expert has warned.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said he expects coronavirus to be with us ‘forever’ – saying it could become a seasonal illness in the same way we expect to deal with the flu.
He told a Downing Street press briefing this evening: ‘I don’t think we are going to eradicate coronavirus ever.
‘I think it’s going to be with humankind forever.
‘We may get to a point where coronavirus becomes a seasonal problem.
‘I don’t want to draw too many parallels with flu but possibly that’s the kind of way we will learn to live with it.’
He said that there wouldn’t be some kind of VE Day-style celebration where we declared the pandemic over.
‘Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’ like the end of the war?’ he asked.
‘No I don’t. I think those habits we’ve learned from that clearly stop the spread of other respiratory viruses like the flu will perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson questioned him on this, saying that some people might prefer to just go back to the way life was before the pandemic.
He responded: ‘And maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.’
Professor Van-Tam later said: ‘I do like to be challenged when I have, perhaps, not made myself clear, and the Prime Minister has picked me up on this occasion, and it’s quite alright because it gives me a chance to clarify what I mean here.
‘I do not think the Government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks, and hand sanitiser forever and a day.
‘I hope we will get back to a much more normal world.
‘But the point I was trying to make was – do I think, possibly, some of those personal habits for some people will persist longer and, perhaps, become enduring for some people, yes, I think that’s possible.’
After clarifying that the professor meant the habits as seen in the ‘Far East’, Mr Johnson said: ‘Well, who knows?’
The comments came as the UK became the first country to grant regulatory approval to the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, with officials announcing rollout would begin next week.
But Prof Van-Tam cautioned that people need to be patient and continue to follow Government guidelines until told otherwise.
He said: ‘We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take.
‘It is going to take months, not weeks.
‘And for now, the other measures, the tier measures, the social distancing have to stay in place.
‘If we relax too soon, if we just kind of go, ‘Oh, the vaccine’s here, let’s abandon caution’, all you are going to do is create a tidal wave of infections.
‘And this vaccine has then got to work in a headwind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder.’
Prof Van-Tam added: ‘Everyone wants social distancing to come to an end – we are fed up with it.
‘Nobody wants lockdowns and to see the damage they do.
‘But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it is offered to you.
‘Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.’
Prof Van-Tam also told the public not to rely on being protected by those who have been vaccinated, saying ‘the vaccine isn’t going to help you if you don’t take it’.
He warned: ‘Watching others take it and hoping that this will then protect you isn’t going to work, necessarily.’
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