Politics

Chris Whitty says no more lockdowns likely with Covid to be 'treated like flu'


England’s chief medical officer has said Covid is not going anywhere but the disease would be treated like the flu and local lockdowns will end.

A “wide portfolio” of coronavirus vaccines could be available in two years but a cautious approach is needed in the meantime, Professor Chris Whitty said.

He also said it is not a “realistic starting point” to think any policy can completely stop the import of variants to the UK, but said he could not see a system of local lockdown returning.

The comments will come as a huge boost to lockdown-weary Brits, more than a year after Boris Johnson imposed the first stay-at-home order.

Prof Whitty added that most experts believed Covid was not going to go away and it would eventually have to be managed in a similar way that flu is.



A woman receives an injection of the the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine
He also said local lockdowns would end

The top medic addressed a wide range of questions about the pandemic during a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Thursday.

While he said technology and the ability to tailor vaccines to new variants will eventually “find a way through”, there remains a level of risk before then.

He said the approach is cautious “because we’ve got such a difficult situation to go through at the moment”.

But he added: “I don’t think though this should be seen as an indefinite posture, I think this is a matter of probably the next year or two whilst we understand how to do this and find a way of responding rapidly to variants.”

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He said if we “scroll forward two years I think we’re going to have a very wide portfolio of vaccines”.

Technology can “turn around a vaccine to a new variant incredibly fast, compared to how historically we’ve been able to do it”, he said.

He added: “So I think technology will find a way through this in the long run, but we’ve got a period of risk between now and then.”

The idea that it is possible to stop any variants of the virus being imported to the UK is “not a realistic starting point”, he said.

He told the webinar: “Anybody who believes that they can actually just put up some border policy or some overall policy that stops the possibility (of variants) completely is misunderstanding the problem completely.”



Employees in special suits test the procedures for the manufacturing of the messenger RNA (mRNA) for the Covid-19 vaccine
The top scientist was speaking during a webinar



Laboratory technicians unbox packages during filling and packaging tests
It comes as moe than 30 million people have been given the first dose of a Covid jab

As for the long term, Prof Whitty repeated that coronavirus “is not going to go away”, and said the future will be about working out how to “minimise mortality whilst not maximising the economic and particularly social impacts on our fellow citizens”.

While he said he cannot see a system of local lockdowns returning, the emergence of a variant which was able to have “unconstrained growth” could mean an “alarm cord” must be pulled.

He said: “The only area where I think we technically are going to have to pull the alarm cord is if a variant of concern comes in that we can see is now back to a situation it could manage unconstrained growth, because the immunological response to it is just not there.”

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Prof Whitty said he will tell a political leader it is not “your call” if he thinks they are trying to make a decision that is not in their remit.

He said there is a spectrum with some decisions which are “purely technical” and others which are “entirely political”.

He said: “Depending on how much, where I think it is on that spectrum, will determine whether I actually really forcefully insert myself into the discussion.

“If I think it’s mainly a technical decision and I think the political leader is trying to take it, I will say, ‘I don’t think that’s your call’.
“Equally, if it’s primarily a political decision… it shouldn’t be me trying to make a political decision for a political leader.”





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