Prime Minister Boris Johnson today said Britons must not “delude” themselves at the likelihood of a third Covid wave “at some stage this year.”
In a Downing Street press conference today, Mr Johnson said the “majority of science opinion” believed there would be a third wave in 2021 - adding Britons must prepare themselves for it and “learn to live” with Covid.
However, he also announced a new “Antivirals Taskforce” to help work on new medicines for the treatment of Covid-19, including take-at-home drugs.
He said: “As we look at what is happening in other countries, with cases now at record numbers around the world, we cannot delude ourselves that Covid has gone away.
“There is nothing in the data now which makes me think we are going to have to deviate from the roadmap we have set out.
“But the majority of science opinion is still that there will be another wave of Covid at some stage this year. We must learn to live with this disease.”
The Prime Minister said the taskforce would give confidence to people that the country could “continue on our path towards freedom”.
Watch: Boris Johnson has announces new antivirals taskforce
He said: “The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds.
“Our new Antivirals Taskforce will seek to develop innovative treatments you can take at home to stop Covid-19 in its tracks.
“These could provide another vital defence against any future increase in infections and save more lives.”
Mr Johnson continued: “This means for example that if you test positive for the virus that there might be a tablet you could take at home to stop the virus in its tracks and significantly reduce the chance of infection turning into more serious disease.
It is hoped that antivirals could help to reduce infections and limit the impact of any new variants.
They may also help to protect people who cannot take vaccines or those who are not fully protected after having the jab.
Officials hope to find and bring two treatments online this year.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, also said tablet antivirals would be “another key tool for the response” against the virus.
“They could help protect those not protected by or ineligible for vaccines,” he said in a statement, adding that the Taskforce will ensure the most promising antivirals will be deployed as quickly as possible.
“They could also be another layer of defence in the face of new variants of concern.”
Mr Johnson said there was nothing in the current data to suggest that they could not proceed with the the next stage of unlocking under the road map as planned.
It comes as the UK recorded 33 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 127,307.
The Government also said that, as of 9am on Tuesday, there had been a further 2,524 lab-confirmed cases in the UK. It brings the total to 4,393,307.
For the first time since September the latest figures showed fewer than 2,000 Covid-19 patients are currently in hospital.
There are currently several new variants in the UK that are creating concern to scientists especially as it means people who have been vaccinated or previously infected could catch the new strain again.
Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?
Boris Johnson said that India being placed on the travel red list was on a “purely precautionary basis” amid the variant first discovered there, which is under investigation by UK experts.
“What we’re seeing in India is a result of a variant under investigation, it hasn’t yet been deemed a variant of concern – I think that was why there has been the delay,” the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference.
“I think what the JBC (Joint Biosecurity Centre) has decided is on a purely precautionary basis it’s necessary now to put India on the red list.
“I want to stress that even before that we have measures in place for everybody coming from India that are very, very tough indeed.”
Meanwhile Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said that coronavirus vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities has improved since the launch of the NHS action plan.
“Since we set out our plan in February, uptake from all ethnic minority backgrounds has tripled, outpacing the national average, across all ethnicities,” she told a Downing Street press conference.
“Take-up among people from a Pakistani background is more than four times higher than it was in February and a five-fold increase in people taking up the vaccine from a Bangladeshi background.”
She said the progress was a “direct result” of action by NHS teams, work by community and faith leaders and high-profile backing from stars such as comedian Lenny Henry.