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Government scientists Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance have cast doubt on Boris Johnson’s suggestion that social distancing could end in November.
Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said distancing, face coverings and isolation would have to “continue for a long period of time”.
Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said it was “highly likely” that coronavirus will circulate around the world and social distancing measures will continue to be “necessary”.
And they both warned that Covid-19 could enjoy a resurgence in winter conditions, which benefit respiratory viruses.
It came as papers were published showing the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) “do not believe it is possible to return to a ‘pre-Covid’ normality, without levels of contact tracing and Covid security effectiveness that would be difficult to achieve, without some sort of additional increase in immunity, either through vaccination or infection”.
The comments all cast doubt on the prime minister’s hopes for “significant” normality by the middle of November and the lifting of remaining restrictions “possibly for Christmas”.
Appearing before the Lords science and technology committee, Whitty said: “There are some things which we started right at the beginning which absolutely have to continue for a prolonged period of time – washing hands, isolation, household isolation.
“And then we’ve added to that things like contact tracing; most recently, face coverings.”
He went on: “And issues around distancing, which have been varied. But the reality is distancing remains an important part of this mix and how it’s interpreted in different environments has evolved but it has not gone away.
“So all of those need to continue for a long period of time.”
He went on: “The things which have been removed are largely in the group of things which was around a different aim, which was not around isolating individuals but was around trying to break contacts between individual households.
“Several of those have now been lifted, not all of them, and we’ve tried to do that in a phased way and the phasing was continuing as the prime minister laid out this morning.”
Do Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty think your plan is too optimistic?— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) July 17, 2020
"[They] give us advice... but in the end decisions are taken by the elected politicians... I don't think [they] would want to take those decisions for us," says Boris Johnsonhttps://t.co/k0qr1OwTTm pic.twitter.com/JS8NNWaSC3
Both Whitty and Vallance also warned that the virus could enjoy a resurgence in winter, restricting room for manoeuvre when lifting restrictions.
Whitty said: “We think there are probably, or I think there are probably – and this I think is a very common view among doctors and scientists who look at this – a group of things you could probably do for three seasons a year but it may be that in winter this is more difficult because winter so benefits respiratory viruses – that’s why we get the flus and the colds and the coughs in winter.
“So we do have to accept we may be able to do things for a period but it’s possible that in winter we may have to do some other things.
“But we just have to be honest about that and the prime minister I think made that clear this morning.”
Vallance meanwhile warned Covid-19 could circulate around the world, come back in waves, “and it may well be seasonal”, citing evidence from the southern hemisphere, where it is winter.
“If it’s the case that it goes round the world [and] comes back again, then clearly we remain as a population exposed to this,” the chief scientific adviser said.
“We are all vulnerable to it and therefore the measures of reducing contact to reduce spread, the sorts of social distancing measures we’ve talked about and the hygiene measures that go along with that will be necessary.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.