Two of the government’s most senior advisers have warned that coronavirus will be around “forever” – even after England finally lifts all restrictions on the delayed target date of 19 July.
Even after all the mitigating measures to reduce risk are in place, he said, “we will have to live with this virus, which will continue to cause severe infections and kill people for the rest of our lives.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, added: “This is a virus that’s going to be with us forever.”
Prof Whitty stressed it was important for officials to strike the right balance between protecting people and opening up society.
“No one thinks at the end of the four-week delay the risk is gone,” he said. “There will still be substantial numbers, there will be substantial numbers in hospitals and sadly there will be some people who will go on to die of this.”
At the briefing, the prime minister confirmed a four-week delay to the country’s roadmap out of lockdown but failed to deny the possibility of extending the delay past 19 July.
“At a certain stage we’re going to have to learn to live with the virus and to manage it as best we can,” Mr Johnson said.
“At the end of [the four-week delay] ... we do think that we will have built up a very considerable wall of immunity around the whole of the population.”
Asked later whether he could give a “cast-iron guarantee” the new July deadline would be the true end of lockdown, Mr Johnson would say only that he was “confident” based on the current data and advice.
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