UK’s Covid nightmare coming to an end as virus to become ‘endemic challenge like flu,’ says vaccines minister

Nicholas Cecil
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Britain’s Covid-19 nightmare is coming to an end, a minister signalled today as he predicted the virus would become an “endemic challenge like flu” next year.

As cases of coronavirus continue to tumble, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the country is on course to have crushed the threat of more devastating waves of the disease with its world-beating jabs roll-out.

He told Times Radio: “The success of the vaccination programme and the strategy of future proofing the programme, both in terms of supply of vaccine and deployment by the NHS, takes us to a place next year where the scientists, the epidemiologists, the clinicians believe that we will move from being in pandemic world to an endemic challenge like flu.

“It will be like the annual flu vaccination programme.”

Testing capacity of blood samples at the high-security Porton Down laboratory in Wiltshire is being more than doubled to 1,500 a week by January 2022 as part of efforts to stay “one step ahead” of the virus.

Leading vaccine expert Professor Adam Finn, from Bristol University, stressed that as more of the world’s population becomes immune to the virus through infection or immunisation, the speed of its evolution with different variants is likely to increase so would be “an increasing problem going forward”.

In coming weeks, though, Mr Zahawi said England remained on course to complete the road map out of lockdown, with planned easing of restrictions on May 17 and June 21.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown

He also revealed that health chiefs could now tell down to postcode level which communities are still more vulnerable to Covid due to low take-up rates of the vaccine.

His comments came as official figures showed Covid-19 cases have plummeted to just one confirmed new infection a week per 10,000 Londoners aged 60 and over.

The fall is a clear sign of the vaccine roll-out’s success and is crucial as individuals in this age group were far more likely to get severe disease if they contracted coronavirus.

The majority of these Londoners have now been vaccinated and their seven-day Covid-19 rate has dropped to 9.6 confirmed infections per 100,000 in the week to April 29, or just under one per 10,000.

The rate for people in the city aged 59 and younger is more than double at 22.1 per 100,000.

The official figures also show:

* Eighteen boroughs had a seven-day rate below 20 in the week to April 29, with the lowest Havering on 12.3.

* Three boroughs had a rate above 30, with the highest Harrow on 35.8.

* The biggest weekly fall in Covid-19 cases was in Camden, down 41.7 per cent.

Mr Zahawi stressed that health chiefs will be able to choose from at least four vaccines to pick the best booster dose which could be administered in the autumn or early next year.

They include the BioNTech/Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax and Valneva vaccines.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and his counterparts around the UK would decide which booster vaccine to opt for and when based on a series of factors including the “durability” of jabs.

Sixty million booster doses have already been ordered from Pfizer and work is underway with the Oxford team on one which could be particularly effective at targeting variants.

Watch: What UK government COVID-19 support is available?

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