he coronavirus pandemic could last “well into 2022”, according to some of the UK’s most prominent experts.
They said that while a vaccine would offer some protection, the country would have to learn to live with the virus “for a long time to come”.
They warned that public take-up of the vaccine was key — and that each person’s individual actions to minimise their risk from Covid-19 were more important than any Government edict.
Prior to announcing the month-long lockdown from Thursday, Boris Johnson had signalled that the “regional tier” restrictions were envisaged to last for six months.
When asked how long the UK pandemic would last, Professor Sir Roy Anderson, of Imperial College London, told the Standard: “Well into 2022.”
Scientific studies are investigating the likely duration of the pandemic, but key questions — such as the likely take-up of a vaccine, its ability to stop transmission in addition to preventing serious illness, and its impact on long-term immunity — are currently unanswered.
Last month the Royal Society’s Delve study said it could take up to a year to vaccinate the UK once a working vaccine was found.
Sir Roy, a fellow of the Royal Society, said: “I don’t expect large-scale vaccination to be taking place until the middle to second half of 2021.
“Then the critical issue will be: what is vaccine uptake? If you really are to block transmission by vaccine-induced herd immunity, you really have got to get up to something like 80 per cent [take-up].”
He said that, unless there was high take-up, “then Covid-19 will become endemic in the UK and elsewhere and we will have surges in winter and troughs in the summer. It will be with us for a very long time.”
Sir Roy added: “There is cavalry coming over the hill in the sense there will be vaccines. Vaccines are the solution to this problem. As with lockdown measures, our behaviour is then going to matter more than Government behaviour. It’s whether we as a community take up the vaccine in sufficient [numbers] that we can clobber transmission.”
Professor Chris Dye, of Oxford University and also a fellow of the Royal Society, said: “I’m afraid we are going to be living with this virus for a long time to come.
“A vaccine, when it comes along, is not going to eliminate this virus … the question is not whether it’s going to go away but rather at what level do we hold it in the population, and what are the consequences?
“There will be several vaccines. But we don’t know how efficacious they are going to be on the two key questions: do they stop people from becoming ill and dying? And does the vaccine stop the spread of infection from one person to another?”
Professor Dye said Covid-19 might eventually become like seasonal flu, which in the UK is typically responsible for thousands of deaths a year.
“But the big caveat is that [Covid-19] is a nastier virus — and we can expect it to go on being nasty,” he said.