The UK will have to live with some disruptive social measures for at least the rest of the year, the government’s chief medical adviser has said.
Prof Chris Whitty said it was “wholly unrealistic” to expect life would suddenly return to normal soon. He said “in the long run” the ideal way out would be via a “highly effective vaccine” or drugs to treat the disease. But he warned that the chance of having those within the next calendar year was “incredibly small”.
“This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear,” he said, at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing.
“So we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally… for the foreseeable future.”
The latest figures show a further 759 people have died with the virus in UK hospitals, bringing the total number of deaths to 18,100. Prof Whitty said the public should not expect the number of coronavirus-related deaths to “fall away” suddenly after the peak.
“In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally,” he said.
“A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed… or highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.”
Also speaking at the briefing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said easing social distancing measures too soon would risk a second spike of coronavirus cases. He said this could trigger a second lockdown that would “prolong the economic pain” across the country.
Mr Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, acknowledged the mental, physical and economic strain social distancing measures were having on people throughout the UK.
But he said that the measures “must remain in place for the time being”.
Mr Raab said: “The greatest risk for us now, if we eased up on our social distancing rules too soon, is that we would risk a second spike in the virus with all the threats to life that would bring and then the risk of a second lockdown which would prolong the economic pain we are all going through.” Gen Sir Nick Carter, the chief of the defence staff, also joined Wednesday’s press conference and described the military response to coronavirus as the “single greatest logistical feat” of his 40 years of service.
“Our role has been entirely in support of the heroic healthcare workers on the front line – that’s both the NHS and social care – with humility very much being our watchword in the way that we give that support,” he said.
Gen Carter said the military has been involved with planning, testing and helping the Foreign Office with repatriation efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
He added that the military was also preparing mobile pop-up testing centres in a bid to roll-out more Covid-19 testing.