The Health Secretary has had he hopes the country can live with coronavirus ‘like we do with flu’ bu the end of the year.
Matt Hancock says both vaccines and drugs designed to treat Covid-19 should make it a ‘treatable disease’.
His comments suggest that coronavirus could be here to stay, and that Downing Street are looking at ways to manage it in the long term, rather than eliminating it completely.
It comes as the UK nears its target of offering 15million people in the top four most vulnerable categories their first jab, with more than half a million already receiving their second dose.
With more people getting vaccinated and daily cases falling significantly over the current lockdown, Boris Johnson has said that on February 22 he will unveil his plan to lift restrictions.
A senior Government scientist suggested that if these measures are eased properly, the country shouldn’t need another lockdown as it could ‘keep this under control’.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the Health Secretary said new treatments expected to come out this year will be crucial in ‘turning Covid from a pandemic that affects all of our lives into another illness that we have to live with, like we do flu’.
He said he hopes a combination of both current and new vaccines and treatments will ‘be our way out to freedom and normal life’ and will make Covid-19 ‘a treatable disease by the end of the year’.
When asked what he meant by ‘treatable’ he said we would need a vaccine that ‘reduces hospitalisations and deaths’ and ‘reduces transmission’, which early data suggests is the case.
Hancock added: ‘If Covid-19 ends up like flu, so we live our normal lives and we mitigate through vaccines and treatments, then we can get on with everything again.’
The Health Secretary also said he hopes every adult in the UK will be offered a jab ‘a bit before September’.
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said he agreed with Hancock’s comments about the UK potentially living with coronavirus in the future in the same way as the flu.
He told Times Radio: ‘I agree with the “by the end of the year” part, I think the jury’s out on what the future will look like.’
On news of the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals going down, he said:
‘We’re all following the data in the UK and from Israel, who are a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of vaccinations, and seeing those transmission graphs absolutely being quashed.
‘We can’t easily pick apart how much of that is lockdown, how much is vaccination, but it’s certainly both of those things. I am cautiously optimistic that we are winning finally.’
Yesterday saw the UK’s R rate – measuring the speed at which Covid-19 reproduces – fell below 1 for the first time since July.
It is now estimated to be between 0.7 and 0.9 across the country, according to the latest Government figures.
This means every 10 people who contract the virus will, on average, go on to infect seven to nine others. Any R number below 1 means the virus is in decline.
With infections dropping, Covid hospital admissions in England are expected to half over the next month, according to projections seen by the Times.
According to evidence presented by scientists to No 10, both coronavirus-related hospitalisations and deaths are predicted to fall to October levels.
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