Coronavirus restrictions could return again next winter, Prof Chris Whitty warns

Prof Chris Whitty has warned further COVID restrictions may be needed next winter. (Hannah McKay/PA)
Prof Chris Whitty has warned further COVID restrictions may be needed next winter. (Hannah McKay/PA)
  • Chris Whitty warns some coronavirus restrictions may still be needed next winter – even with rollout of vaccine

  • ‘Winter benefits the virus... and it’s not going to go away’

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England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned coronavirus restrictions may still be needed next winter.

Prof Whitty was asked “how normal life can be” once the most vulnerable people have been vaccinated against COVID-19, and whether the risk is “too high” to let the virus “rip through” the less vulnerable age groups between 20 and 50.

Speaking at Tuesday’s Downing Street press conference, he warned the easing of restrictions won’t “suddenly stop” – and that “a few” could even be reimposed later this year.

Prof Whitty said: “What is going to happen over time is the risk level is going to gradually decrease [as more vulnerable age groups receive their jabs].

Watch: Boris Johnson outlines latest vaccination figures

“It’s not going to be ‘it’s really bad and then suddenly it stops’. We’re going to essentially have the risk walking down a path. Things will be able to be lifted by degrees, possibly at different rates in different parts of the country, we’ll have to see.

“And we’ll then get, over time, to a point where people say this level of risk is one that society is prepared to tolerate, and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all. We might have to bring a few in next winter, for example. That is possible because winter will benefit the virus.”

Some 1.3 million people in the UK – including 1.1 million in England – have now received a vaccine. It includes 650,000 people over 80, though this is still only 23% of all people over 80 in England.

It could be months before sufficient numbers of vulnerable people are protected against the virus, and Prof Whitty added the aim is to “de-risk as much as possible... to the point where we actually get to the stage where the risk is incredibly low relative to where we are now”.

Developing his point about the virus during the winter, Prof Whitty added: “This coronavirus is not going to go away, just as flu doesn’t go away, just as many other viruses don’t go away.

“The time that benefits them most is always winter, that’s one of the reasons we’re having problems now, along with the new variant.

“Hopefully we’ll have spring, summer and autumn – possibly winter as well – with almost nothing in place, once the full vaccination programme is through. But we just need to be aware of the fact this is not a problem that just disappears.”

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown