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The likelihood of wiping out Covid-19 for good is “as close to zero as makes no difference”, England’s Chief Medical Officer has said.
Professor Chris Whitty warned that the virus would remain an issue “for the foreseeable future” and poured cold water on the idea that it could be eradicated in the UK or around the world.
The top medic told a Downing Street press conference marking the anniversary of the first lockdown that the focus should be on reducing deaths and severe disease.
“I regret to say that I think the chances of eradicating this disease – which means getting rid of it absolutely everywhere – are as close to zero as makes no difference,” he said.
““Everyone agrees we can get Covid rates right down. That should be absolutely our aim, to get cases of people who die and have severe disease as close to zero as we can.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer
(Image: Getty Images)
“If we can go further, who would say no? But I think if you talk to anybody who looks at this really seriously, who understands how infectious diseases work, I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks eliminating from the UK or eradicating globally for any long period of time is a realistic prospect at this point in time.”
Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance echoed his comments, saying there would likely be “recurrences of infection in winter” and Covid-19 would circulate as viruses have for ‘thousands of years”.
He said: “I think get the numbers as low as we can, don’t expect this is going to disappear.
“Expect that there will be recurrences of infections, particularly in the winter and that this will become a circulating virus as others have done over thousands of years – and I think this is unfortunately what we have.
“I think the chance of eradication, true eradication, ie zero, are in themselves close to zero.”
Coronavirus could be with us for the ‘foreseeable future’, according to the Government’s top medic. Photo by Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock
Boris Johnson said having listened to scientists “intently” for many months, eradication of Covid-19 is not something that “makes sense in a globalised economy for one country alone”.
During the press conference, Prof Whitty also expressed concern that the pandemic could leave a long-term legacy of poverty and deprivation.
He said lockdowns had pushed many struggling families into dire economic circumstances, and warned that poverty could have long term health implications.
On the anniversary of the first national lockdown, the top medic said the virus had “shone a light” on how the poorest communities faced major health challenges.
Asked what the legacy of the pandemic might be, Prof Whitty said: “One of the things that made so many of the decisions very difficult is much of what’s happened in lockdown has the risk of making people who were on the borderlines of deprivation in more difficult economic and other circumstances.
“We all know that has massive impact on long term health implications.
“So that could have really quite a long term implication again if we don’t take it seriously.”
He added: The people who are being affected by Covid now, are the same families, the same places the same people who are affected by so many other diseases and I think we really need to look at this very seriously.
“The same people will be suffering form the diseases of smoking, other diseases of deprivation and so on, and so I really think we need to take this very seriously as a country and as a community.”
Prof Whitty also warned of a “delayed effect” from the pandemic on wider healthcare, such as delays to cancer screening or planned operations.