UK to be ‘more or less free’ of Covid by Christmas, says Sage expert

Some measures will remain 'probably forever', he says

Clea Skopeliti
Thursday 11 February 2021 15:12
UK should be ‘very cautious’ about foreign travel, warns scientific adviser

The UK should be "more or less free" of the coronavirus pandemic by Christmas, an epidemiologist and independent adviser to the government has said, adding that some measures are likely to remain permanently.

Appearing on ITV after Boris Johnson announced that a quarter of adults in England had received their first vaccine dose, Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said that he thinks "we will be more or less free of this by the end of this year... say Christmas".

Nicola Sturgeon said that more than one million people in Scotland have also been given a dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

However, Prof Edmunds warned against opening up too quickly, pointing to the risk posed by new variants.

He said: "I know that companies are working very hard on developing new vaccines in order to protect against these potential new variants that might affect us so I do think we need to be very cautious at the moment about travel abroad."

A modified version of the Oxford vaccine – one capable of neutralising the emerging coronavirus variants – could be ready by autumn, a senior executive at AstraZeneca said last week.

He warned that a new variant of the virus detected in Bristol "may be able to reinfect people who have been previously infected or who have been previously vaccinated", so it would be "very dangerous" to let the virus rip.

The Bristol variant, which is a mutated version of the variant first detected in Kent, has been classified as a cause for “concern” by scientific advisers to the government.

Looking towards school reopening in March, Prof Edmunds said Sage was not "absolutely certain" whether the reproduction number, or R value, would rise above one.

He said it would be "touch and go", adding: "If we opened them up completely, if we opened secondary schools and primary schools both at the same time, I suspect we'd be lucky to keep the reproduction number below one...

"I think we have to do everything very gradually and see how it goes."

Announcing that more than 13 million people have had their first dose, Mr Johnson stressed that it meant that two million more in the top four priority groups, covering the over-70s, health and care staff and the clinically extremely vulnerable, had not been vaccinated.

The prime minister urged care home staff to take up the vaccine before the target date of 15 February, saying "now is the moment to do it".

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