COVID will be 'difficult' for next three months but 'end is in sight', says WHO

A pharmacy in Chertsey, Surrey, displays a sign saying that they have no lateral flow tests available. Picture date: Monday January 10, 2022.
A pharmacy in Chertsey, Surrey, displays a sign on Monday saying that they have no lateral flow tests available. (PA)

The next three months of the coronavirus pandemic will 'be difficult' but 'the end is in sight', the World Health Organization has said.

Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19, warned on Monday that there will be more coronavirus variants to follow Omicron.

His comments came after the UK government played down reports that free lateral flow COVID-19 tests are to be scrapped.

Dr Nabarro told Sky News: “It’s going to be difficult for the next three months at least.

“I’m afraid we are moving through the marathon but there’s no actual way to say that we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there.

Watch: Lateral flow COVID tests to stay free, says minister

“And there’s going to be some bumps before we get there.”

Dr Nabarro added: “And I can’t tell you how bad they’re going to be, but I can at least tell you what I’m expecting.

Read more: Omicron reinfections ‘rising rapidly’ in over 30s

“First of all, this virus is continuing to evolve – we have Omicron but we’ll get more variants.

“Secondly, it really is affecting the whole world. And, whilst health services in Western Europe are just about coping, in many other parts of the world, they are completely overwhelmed.

“And thirdly, it’s really clear that there’s no scope for major restrictions in any country, particularly poor countries.

“People have just got to keep working and so there are some very tough choices for politicians right now.”

(170126) -- GENEVA, Jan. 26, 2017 (Xinhua) -- David Nabarro, UN Special Adviser on 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, addresses the media in the headquarters of World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, Jan. 26, 2017. The WHO Executive Board selected 3 nominees, Pakistani candidate Sania Nishtar, Ethiopian candidate Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and British candidate David Nabarro, for the post of WHO Director-General on Wednesday. (Xinhua/Xu Jinquan)(zf) (Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA)
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organization's special envoy on COVID-19, said the 'end is in sight'. (PA)

In the UK, government ministers are reportedly looking at scaling back free lateral flow tests, as well as reducing the self-isolation period from seven days to five.

On Monday, levelling up secretary Michael Gove said lateral flow tests will be free for “as long as we need”.

He told Sky News: “We are moving to a situation – we’re not there yet – but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with COVID and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.

“But it’s absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet. There will be some difficult weeks ahead and that is why we all need to continue to test, continue – if we are positive – to isolate and continue broadly to support the NHS as it goes through a challenging period.”

People wearing face masks go shopping at a market in London, Britain, Jan. 8, 2022. Britain reported a further 313 coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain to 150,057, according to official figures released Saturday. (Photo by Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images)
People wearing face masks while shopping at a market in London on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Gove said it would be up to prime minister Boris Johnson and health secretary Sajid Javid to decide whether to cut the period of COVID isolation to five days from seven.

Dr Nabarro warned that people may have to learn to live with coronavirus surges three or four times a year.

Read more: The English areas with the worst booster vaccine take-up

“The way this virus is behaving, and has behaved really since we first met it, is that it builds up and then surges quite dramatically, and then it comes down again, and then surges again about every three or four months,” he said.

“I would agree that the pattern that is going to happen with this virus is continued surges, and living with COVID means being able to prepare for these surges and to react and really quickly when they occur.

“Life can go on, we can get the economy going again in many countries, but we just have to be really respectful of the virus and that means having really good plans in place for dealing with the surges.”

At the weekend, the UK passed the milestone of recording more than 150,000 deaths from coronavirus.

Watch: GP and bereaved family member react to UK passing 150,000 COVID deaths