Coronavirus is 'here forever' and UK was 'asleep' to pandemic threat, says Oxford professor

Reguis Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford Sir John Bell speaks at the launch of the life sciences industrial strategy at the University of Birmingham's Institute of Translational Medicine, in Birmingham.
Professor Sir John Bell said it is unlikely that coronavirus will ever be eradicated. (PA)

The coronavirus will ‘be here forever’, a leading scientist has said.

Professor Sir John Bell, a immunologist and geneticist at the University of Oxford, said it is unlikely COVID-19 will ever be eliminated.

And he criticised the response to the crisis, saying the UK was “asleep” to the threat of a pandemic.

He told the Commons health and social care committee on Tuesday that COVID-19 may never be eradicated.

"The reality is that this pathogen is here forever, it isn't going anywhere," he told MPs.

"Look at how much trouble they've had in eliminating, for example, polio, that eradication programme has been going on for 15 years and they're still not there.

"So this is going to come and go, and we're going to get winters where we get a lot of this virus back in action.”

Earlier this month, he warned that the UK should “prepare for the worst” this winter.

On Monday, preliminary results of human trials at Oxford University showed the vaccine it’s developing is safe and produces an immune reaction.

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However, Sir John warned: "The vaccine is unlikely to have a durable effect that'll last for a very long time, so we're going to have to have a continual cycle of vaccinations, and then more disease, and more vaccinations and more disease.

"So I think the idea that we're going to eliminate it across the population, that's just not realistic."

He told the committee one of the UK’s biggest failures was not being on the "front foot" in preparation for a pandemic.

"The fact that we were asleep to the concept that we were going to have a pandemic, I think, shame on us,” he said.

"Since the year 2000 we've had eight close calls of emerging infectious diseases, any one of which could have swept the globe as a pandemic.

"This is not new and I think we should not be proud of the fact that we ended up with a system which had no resilience to pandemics. I think the biggest single failure was not being on the front foot.

"Singapore started the first week of January preparing for trouble, where it took us very much to the end of February beginning of March to get going.

"I think that's the single biggest failure and I think a lot of things fall out from that."

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