We are not yet close to a world without Covid-19, World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy on Covid-19 David Nabarro has said.
Addressing a Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh symposium, he said that new variants will be a "regular" occurrence whilst Covid-19 continues to circulate.
"The pandemic is nowhere near finished," Dr Nabarro said.
"Each week we have seen four and a half million cases being reported and know those are an enormous underestimate.
"And we are still seeing a really significant number of deaths - nearly three million.
"What I want to stress is that the pandemic is surging forward everywhere.
"The current UK situation is going against the trend of the global advancement... but please do not think this pandemic is over because it is not.
"With (cases) occurring at a local level, if they are not suppressed they lead to surges of disease and then explosive outbreaks."
Dr Nabarro said it is "one of the fastest spreading viruses" he had ever worked with, but added: "The doubling time (of infections) has slowed massively through the behaviours of people - though physical distance, masks, better hygiene and isolating to avoid transmission."
Acknowledging the lifting of restrictions in the UK, as well as the optimism brought by the rapid vaccination programme, he added: "(Some say) this is an opportunity for he UK to emerge from the pandemic, well I say ‘perhaps’.
"I have to stress that I am not 100% sure that the world is going to find it to easy to vaccinate itself out of this pandemic because the emergence of variants that are capable of escaping protection of current vaccines.
"With very large amounts of virus around there will be a regular arrival of new variants that are particularly troublesome. That variant problem is going on and on and on as long as we have got a lot of virus around.
"For anybody to say that they are safe because they are vaccinated is more hope than probability.
"We should expect more variants to emerge and escape vaccine protection, that is inevitable, and so globally we should anticipate that this pandemic is going to go on roaring in parts of the world where there are large numbers of people infected."
He said countries can try their best to stop variants by controlling their borders but that is a "short-term measure".
Dr Nabarro said world leaders need to support other countries through a global Covid programme, adding: "If they don’t do so I think the prospect of getting collectively ahead of this pandemic in short order are next to zero and we will go on struggling with uncertainty, not just for the coming year but a number of years."
Whilst the vaccination programmes are indeed offering some hope, there is no guarantee that they will be able to protect us from new strains of Covid-19.
For example, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was designed before the emergency of the so-called UK variant, or the South Afrrican variant. Data from the scientists behind this vaccine provided assurances that this jab protected well against the UK variant, but less well against the South African variant - but could still protect against severe illness.
The reason some people require annual flu vaccines is because the flu virus mutates too, so there is some speculation that we may have to get annual boosters of the Covid vaccine, in order to manage new variants, Dr Peter English, a communicable disease control consultant, former editor of Vaccines in Practice magazine and ex-chair of the BMA public health medicine committee, told Sky News.
However, this is not something yet confirmed.
Additional reporting by PA
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