Andrew Neil discusses Covid booster jabs on This Morning
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The coronavirus pandemic has made the unthinkable a reality. Face masks, keeping two metres from others and being forced to isolate at home if you experience a cough or persistent fever were inconceivable before March last year. However, in the time since coronavirus hit the UK, these implausible behaviours have become second nature.
Several epidemiologists and virologists believe the Covid pandemic will have no end.
In all likelihood, COVID-19 will never be over according to Professor Martin Michaelis, the virologist and professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent.
The virologist added Covid will likely continue and morph into a seasonal illness and, in other words, become endemic.
Professor Michaelis told Express.co.uk: “It is very difficult to identify and terminate all transmission chains.
“Viruses that are that easily transmitted from human-to-human do not normally just disappear.”
New variants have emerged since the pandemic began and not all of these are guaranteed to be covered by immunity from previous infections or current vaccines.
The molecular medicine expert added: “This shows that the virus can mutate and change in a way that it can infect individuals who are protected from previous virus variants.”
Covid is also likely to continue into the long term because of its routes, according to Professor Michaelis.
SARS-CoV-2 is a so-called “zoonotic” virus, which means it will likely be more difficult to shift.
A zoonotic virus is a virus which can infect other species, in addition to humans.
For instance, with COVID-19, the virus derived from bats was probably transmitted to humans via an intermediate animal species, believed to be pangolins, and has been detected in many animals since, including cats, ferrets, and minks.
Professor Michaelis told Express.co.uk: “Even if we eradicated COVID-19 completely from the human population, there would always remain a risk of it being reintroduced from animals, perhaps even from animals that had been infected by humans in the first place.”
He added: “Animals may not only reintroduce COVID-19 into the human population, but animals may also give rise to novel variants that we are not protected against.
“For all these reasons, it looks as if it will not be possible to get rid of COVID-19 for good.
The pandemic however is not playing out in the same way from place to place.
Some countries have not reported any confirmed cases of the virus, while others have reported incredibly small numbers in total.
Around the globe, countries such as the United States, India and Brazil have reported record and frankly alarming numbers of Covid cases.
Second and third waves are hitting some countries, bringing health systems to the brink of collapse.
Professor Michelis said it is difficult to predict which countries will be worst hit by Covid in the longer term because it is all down to chance.
He told Express.co.uk: “Nature continuously plays dice. Hence, you can increase or decrease the likelihood of a certain scenario, but you can never be sure what is going to happen.
“Nevertheless, it is foreseeable that poorer countries with less developed healthcare systems will bear the brunt.”
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By comparison, the virologist said rich countries have a greater economic capacity to purchase and distribute vaccines, better protective equipment, greater testing and heightened surveillance measures.
Rich countries will also be able to afford COVID-19 drugs, once they become available.
However, poorer nations will not have the capacity to dedicate the same level of expenditure.
The virologist added: “Hence, we see the typical healthcare inequalities that we are used to and that reflect the economic conditions around the globe.
“As long as COVID-19 continues to spread in the poorer parts of the world, however, also the rich countries will continue to live under the threat of new variants that may be imported from elsewhere, even if they have COVID-19 domestically under control.”
Professor Michaelis said only “very few countries” have managed to keep the raging virus under control.
He pointed to the examples of Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Singapore which have reported 29,886, 2,633, 1,173 and 61,286 Covid cases respectively.
The virologist told Express.co.uk: “These countries have in common that they have taken a very aggressive approach towards COVID-19 right from the beginning.
“This resulted in very low levels of domestic COVID-19 spread and much lower death tolls.
“This also enabled the residents of these countries to enjoy more freedoms than we had and spared them repeated long-term lockdowns.”
Professor Michaelis added some countries have shown an improvement in the control of the Covid crisis due to successful vaccination programmes.
However, Professor Michaelis said he does not believe “a vaccination programme can sort out all of our COVID-19 issues once and for all.”
He added: “Once there is a new variant that can effectively bypass pre-existing immunity, we will depend again much more on distancing and hygiene measures and effective testing programmes.
“Hence, those countries will be most successful that do not only have effective vaccination programmes but that also have very effective testing procedures in place that enable the effective identification and interruption of transmission chains.”
Two factors will determine a country’s ability to quash Covid permanently – money and behaviour.
Professor Michaelis said a country’s economic ability will help it invest in keeping coronavirus at bay through vaccination, testing and tracing measures.
Another key element however is also the “responsible behaviour of every individual”.
The virologist said: “So far, we have not learnt to live in a way that would control COVID-19 spread.
“Distancing rules and other restrictions including the COVID-19 tier system did not stop the rise of COVID-19 cases.
“In the end, only lockdowns achieved this.”
He added people need to “learn to live in a way that reduces infectious disease transmission” while balancing the absence of formal regulations.
Professor Michaelis told Express.co.uk: “Taken together, I think that only countries with an effective healthcare approach and with residents who take on the responsibility for their own behaviour will sustainably stay on top of COVID-19.”
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