A top government scientist has warned people to prepare for living with the coronavirus for years to come.
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, questioned “will we ever be out of this?” amid doubts over whether a vaccine will ever be produced.
His stark warning came after the UK’s COVID-19 death toll rose to 34,796, with 246,406 people having tested positive.
Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus press conference on Monday, Prof Van-Tam said: “Maybe people are just hoping and praying that this virus will just go away, as indeed I hope and pray it will.
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“But the reality is, until we get a vaccine, and only if we get a vaccine that is really capable of suppressing disease levels, will we ever be ‘out of this’?
“From that perspective, we may have to live, and learn to live, with this virus in the long-term. Certainly for many months to come, if not years.”
He added: “A vaccine may change that but we can’t be sure we will get a vaccine.”
On Sunday, pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca finalised a government-funded “global licensing agreement” with Oxford University, which is behind one of the leading vaccine programmes.
The government has said that if a vaccine is successful, AstraZeneca will make 30 million doses available by September.
However, Number 10 itself has acknowledged a vaccine may never be found. In its COVID-19 recovery strategy released last week, it said: “A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away. Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine.”
Meanwhile, Prof Van-Tam also said more information was needed on the seasonality of COVID-19.
He said: “One of the things that’s very clear with flu viruses is that they come in our cold winters and the levels of transmission and circulation decline over the summer months.
“The data we have on other coronaviruses we have looked at very carefully, and it’s not clear that these coronaviruses are as seasonal as influenza.
“But there may be an element of seasonality and it may well be that the autumn and winter conditions provide a better environment for the virus to then do its work again.”