Coronavirus restrictions could be in place until at least all adults have been vaccinated, a top public health official has warned. Even then, normal life might not return as not enough is known about Covid transmission, Dr Susan Hopkins said.
Speaking on a special Sky News programme COVID Crisis: Learning The Lessons, the senior Public Health England (PHE) adviser said it was ‘difficult to say’ if rules this summer could be stricter than this time last year, when pubs were open and holidays abroad were allowed.
‘One of the things we’ve learnt is that when people go on holiday, perhaps they drop their guard a bit, perhaps they mingle a bit closer and they mingle in groups,’ Dr Hopkins said.
‘So I think we are going to have to have some measures in place until the whole population is vaccinated, at least all of the adult population.’ Dr Hopkins: Restrictions could last until at least all adults are vaccinated Play Video Loaded: 0% 0:00Progress: 0% PlayMute Current Time0:00 / Duration Time0:49 Fullscreen
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said last month that all UK adults will be offered a coronavirus vaccination by September. Reports have suggested ministers are privately more optimistic and hope everyone will have had their first jab by May.
While studies show Covid vaccines prevent people from falling seriously ill with the virus, less is known about how effective they are at stopping it from spreading. A study from the University of Oxford published last week found its jab with AstraZeneca may reduce transmission of the virus by as much as two-thirds, but it has not yet been peer reviewed. Dr Hopkins is the latest scientist to call for caution as MPs pressure Boris Johnson to confirm a plan for lifting restrictions.
She said only time will tell if an earlier lockdown could have saved more lives in the second wave. But she did not appear to rule out Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme having contributed to a rise in cases over the summer, saying: ‘Every social interaction leads to a rise in infections, if infections are rising in the community.’
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who appeared on the show alongside Dr Hopkins, defended the Government. ‘Sometimes of course, when you look back you think ‘well if I’d known that then I may have done things slightly differently’, Mr Zahawi said. ‘But we were learning, as we were having to also make these really tough decisions on a daily basis – as were the scientists.’ Boris Johnson has previously promised to unveil a roadmap out of lockdown on February 22.
But Downing Street today appeared to broaden the deadline by saying the plans would be announced that week. Schools need two weeks notice to open, meaning the blueprint would have to be published on the 22nd for them to open on his target date of March 8.
The PM has reportedly told ministers there will be no backsliding on this commitment after a number of top scientists warned him not to lift restrictions too soon. Sir Jeremy Farrar said Covid infections must fall from the current 750,000 to under 9,000 ‘before we can think about lifting restrictions’. Meanwhile Prof John Edmunds said opening schools could push the R rate above 1 and some restrictions will be needed until Christmas.