Britain could be living with coronavirus in the same way it lives with the flu by the end of this year, Matt Hancock has suggested.
The health secretary made the hopeful prediction amid reports that Boris Johnson will unveil a three-stage roadmap for the lifting of restrictions later this month.
"I hope that Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year," Mr Hancock told the Telegraph newspaper.
He added that new treatments "over the months to come" would help turn Covid "from a pandemic that affects all of our lives into another illness that we have to live with, like we do flu".
Under reported plans for lifting lockdown, pubs across England could be serving customers by Easter weekend at the beginning of April, while the future of the tier system is thought to be in doubt.
Current thinking in Whitehall suggests schools would be the first to reopen in March, followed by shops if the R number continues to stay below one and cases continue to fall. Hospitality businesses would follow if the falls in cases were sustained.
The approach to reopening, expected to be confirmed by the prime minister on 22 February, would please many of Mr Johnson's Tory backbenchers, who are calling for restrictions to be lifted quickly.
But a top scientist advising the Government has urged caution and said another wave as big as the one currently engulfing the UK could hit if all restrictions are lifted too soon.
Professor Steven Riley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group, has said the rollout of the vaccination programme did not mean coronavirus controls could be ended.
"No vaccine is perfect. We are certainly going to be in the situation where we can allow more infection in the community but there is a limit," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday morning
"In the short term if we were to allow a very large wave of infection, that wave will find all the people who couldn't have the vaccine for very good reason (and) those people who had the vaccine but unfortunately it didn't give them the protection they need.
"I think scientists are genuinely worried. We don't want to show that it is an excellent-not-perfect vaccine by having another large wave in the UK.
"If for some reason we were to choose to just pretend it (coronavirus) wasn't here any more then there is the potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now."
It comes as Mr Hancock announced that new treatments would be fast-tracked through clinical trials.
NHS patients could receive new cutting-edge Covid-19 treatments in months rather than years after the government stepped up funding for phase 1 trials.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies