Coronavirus restrictions could return next winter amid warning disease will not 'disappear with spring'

Coronavirus restrictions may have to return next winter as the country’s top medical adviser said the disease is not simply going to go away despite vaccination programmes.

Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 6:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 6:08 pm

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whity said the risk from the virus would decrease over time, but he said “we should not kid ourselves [that] this just disappears with spring”.

He said: “We might have to bring in a few in next winter for example, that’s possible, because winter will benefit the virus.”

And he warned that while the NHS targets for rolling out vaccines were “realistic”, he said it was “not easy”.

Professor Chris Whitty. Photo: PA

“The NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out but they are very determined to do this, but that does not make it easy,” he said.

And he added: “Obviously what we all hope is that we can get a vaccination programme that actually means we don’t need [restrictions] in the future at any stage, that would be ideal, but I think it’s also important to understand that coronavirus is not going to go away, just as flu doesn’t go away, just as many other viruses don’t go away, and the time that benefits [viruses] the most is always winter.”

And it comes as Boris Johnson told a Downing Street briefing that from next week, daily figures on the number of vaccines delivered will be published, as he revealed one in 50 people now has coronavirus.

Mr Johnson has pinned the hopes of lifting the latest national lockdown on the mass vaccinations of the most vulnerable groups in society, with an aim to offer appointments to 13m people by mid-February, paving the way for controls to be eased.

However Cabinet Minister Michael Gove has warned that tough new coronavirus restrictions in England may have to remain in force until March.

Mr Johnson said: “I can tell you that this afternoon - with Pfizer and Oxford/AstraZeneca combined - as of this afternoon we have now vaccinated over 1.1m people in England and over 1.3m across the UK.

“And that includes more than 650,000 people over 80 - which is 23 per cent of all the over 80s in England - and that means that nearly one in four of one of the most vulnerable groups will have in two to three weeks – all of them - a significant degree of immunity.

“And when you consider that the average age of Covid fatalities is in the 80s, you can see the importance of what we have already achieved.”

In Yorkshire and the Humber one in 65 people has the virus, Office for National Statistics figures revealed.

Professor Whitty said Covid-19 hospitalisations across England are “rising very rapidly and, of course, we are still in the middle of winter”.

And he told the Downing Street press conference that the fastest increase of the new variant is in the east of England, London and south-east, but it is “now taking off in other areas as well”.

He said: “If we did not do all the things all of us must now do, if people don’t take the stay at home seriously, the risk at this point in time, in the middle of winter with this new variant, is extraordinarily high.”

“What is going to happen over time is the risk is gradually going to decrease, it’s not going to be really bad and then suddenly it stops.”

He said there would come a point where the level of risk is at a tolerable level and measures can be lifted but some may be introduced as the weather turns colder as “winter will benefit the virus”.

“Those risks, little by little, will be reduced by vaccination, but zero risk is not something which is a realistic possibility.”