Coronavirus social distancing measures likely to continue until end of the year

Social distancing measures will have to stay in place until a vaccine or drug to treat coronavirus is found, the country’s top medic has revealed.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty. Photo: PA
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty. Photo: PA

Speaking at the daily press briefing at Downing Street, the country’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned neither solution was likely to happen before the end of the year, as he said: “We have to be very realistic if people are hoping it’s suddenly going to move from where we are in lockdown to where suddenly into everything is gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation.”

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons today that the UK had reached the peak of the virus.

And Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab said there was “light at the end of the tunnel” and added: “We are making progress through the peak of this virus but we’re not out of the woods yet, as Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) advised last week.”

Prof Whitty warned the public should not expect the number of Covid-19 deaths to “fall away” suddenly.

He said: “It is important for people to fully understand that… even in those countries which started their epidemic curve earlier than in the UK, and which are still ahead, the downward slope from the point which we change is a relatively slow one.

“We should anticipate the same situation in the UK. We should not expect this to be a sudden fall away of cases.”

He said: “In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally. A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed… or, and or, highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.

“Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that.

“We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.

“But until that point, that is what we will have to do but it will be the best combination that maximises the outlooks but it’s going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that.”

Prof Whitty said any easing of lockdown measures must keep the transmission rate to below one as he described the balancing act under consideration by ministers.

He said: “We cannot allow R, the force of transmission, to go above one for any extended period at any point because, if it does, exponential growth of this will continue, it’ll resume and we will get back to a situation where the NHS could have its emergency services overwhelmed.

“It does not take very long from where you get from bad numbers to really bad numbers.

“This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear so we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally for the foreseeable future.

“What we are trying to work out is what are the things that add up to an R of less than one.

“That narrows our options quite significantly.”