COVID-19: Life won't return to normal for at least two years, expert warns, saying pandemic 'isn't over until it's over globally'

·3-min read

Life globally will not return to normal for two or three years based on the rate of the current vaccination rollout, it has been warned - but there are early signs jabs are reducing cases in the UK.

Speaking to Sky News, Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at London School of Economics, said the COVID-19 pandemic will not be over until the world's population is protected.

"At the moment, the data is showing it's going to be 2023/24 before the global vaccines are distributed to everybody," she said.

"That's a long time. And distributing some now might be able to get us back to normal life sooner."

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Even once the UK population had been vaccinated, restrictions such as border controls would continue to exist because of the threat posed by resistant coronavirus variants being brought in from outside, she said.

"This pandemic isn't going to be over until it's over globally," Dr Wenham said.

"We're still going to be living in some form of restrictions - travel restrictions, border controls - even when we're vaccinated, until it's over round the world. So there's a real imperative to make sure that everybody round the world has at least minimum levels of vaccines at the same time."

It came as the World Health Organisation urged the UK to pause its vaccination programme once vulnerable groups have received their jabs to help ensure the global rollout is fair.

Britain currently has one of the highest levels of vaccine coverage but many poorer countries are yet to start any immunisations.

WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly called for equitable distribution of jabs and warned that a "me first" approach would prolong the pandemic, as well as human and economic suffering.

Ministers recently pointed out the UK had committed £548m to the WHO's Covax programme to support access to Covid-19 vaccines for up to 92 developing countries.

However, the EU has sparked controversy and a diplomatic row after imposing vaccine controls in a dispute over supply shortages.

Dr Wenham told Sky News: "If we want to return to global systems of trade and travel we need to make sure that the vulnerable globally are vaccinated."

As well as the moral argument, she said: "From an economic standpoint, to be able to relieve border controls and go back to some form of normalcy we need to make sure people around the world are vaccinated - so we don't see these new variants created, so we are not risking bringing something new into the country which we might not have vaccine protection against."

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has also warned that vaccinating "a lot of people in a few countries, leaving the virus unchecked in large parts of the world, will lead to more variants emerging".

Meanwhile, initial research shows that Britons are definitely being protected by the rollout of vaccines across the UK, according to The Times.

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Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the government, told the paper it was clear that mass vaccination was helping bring down case numbers.

He also said it was possible that those who have received a jab may "get stronger and better long-term protection" by a delayed second dose.

If this if confirmed, it would be a vindication for the government of delaying second shots in order to ensure more people received initial injections.

Over three nights, Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK's response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February.