Coronavirus Updates

April 16, 2020

Social distancing will carry on until vaccine is found, says UK’s government adviser

Social distancing will carry on until vaccine is found, says UK’s government adviser

The UK will probably have to continue social distancing until a vaccine for the coronavirus is found, according to a key government science adviser.

Professor Neil Ferguson, who leads the team modelling the outbreak, said the lockdown could be lifted in a controlled way but that a ‘significant level of social distancing’ will have to be maintained until the population can be inoculated.

There is little consensus on how long a vaccine will take to develop, with the most-cited estimates ranging from 12 to 18 months.

It could take even longer for a large-scale vaccination programme to then become viable.

Asked whether restrictions could be eased in three weeks’ time, Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think that will very much depend on quite how quickly case numbers go down, and that does require us to get on top of things like transmission rates in hospitals and care homes.

‘I think the other thing I would say is that it really requires a single-minded emphasis in Government and the health system on scaling up testing and putting in place the ability to track down cases in the community and contact-trace.

‘Because without that, our estimates show we have relatively little leeway; if we relax measures too much then we’ll see a resurgence of transmission.

He added: ‘What we really need is the ability to put something in their place. If we want to open schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Repeated bouts of social distancing may be needed until 2022 ― Harvard study

‘And I should say, it’s not going to be going back to normal. We will have to maintain some form of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.’

His comments are the clearest indication yet of a long-term plan to manage the UK’s outbreak.

Scientists are increasingly arguing that the only return to normality can come from large enough proportions of the population becoming immune to the virus that it is starved of new hosts, known as herd immunity.

This can either be achieved through large-scale vaccination or by letting people catch the virus in the safest way possible, which has been considered as a strategy by science advisers in the UK and elsewhere.

Many countries are planning to lift restrictions slowly to avoid a second wave of cases.
Testing and contract tracing is seen as an aid to easing measures in a more targeted, efficient way, but not to stop the virus entirely.

Treatments are being tested which could minimise the risk of harm or death to patients, potentially allowing the public to build up natural immunity without overwhelming the healthcare system.

Natural immunity could also take longer to develop than a vaccine, depending on how long people stay immune to the virus after recovery, how contagious it is, and how many people have caught it already – none of which are accurately known to scientists.

A Harvard University study published on Tuesday found intermittent bouts of social distancing could be needed until 2022 if no vaccine or treatments are found.

Source: Metro UK

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