Chances of vaccine or treatment for coronavirus within next 12 months 'incredibly small', chief medical officer warns
Chris Whitty delieverd the gloomy prediction at the Number 10 press conference.
Social distancing measures will need to continue for at least another 12 months because the chances of developing a vaccine or treatment for coronavirus before then are "incredibly small", according to the chief medical officer.
Chris Whitty said the British public "should be realistic" about the prospect of life returning to normal any time soon.
He made his gloomy prediction as debate rages within the Cabinet about when the Government should begin easing the movement restrictions which have been in place since 23 March.
Hopes had been raised after Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons that the UK has reached the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak.
But speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Professor Whitty said: "In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things ideally - a highly effective vaccine, and there are a variety of ways that vaccines can be deployed, or highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.
"Until we have those - and the probability of having either of those in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that - we’re going to have to rely on other social measures which of course are very socially disruptive, as everybody is finding out at the moment. But until that point that is what we will have to do."
Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Boris Johnson as he recovers from coronavirus, confirmed last week that the social distancing measures will stay in place until 7 May at the earliest.
Ministers will then decide whether to extend them until the end of next month.
But with the UK economy set to enter recession, and millions of jobs at risk, some senior Cabinet figures want some of the restrictions lifted to get people spending again in the shops.
At the press conference, Mr Raab said: "We are making progress through the peak of this virus. But we’re not out of the woods yet.
"That’s why the measures we introduced must remain in place for the time being.
"The greatest risk for us now - if we eased up on social distancing rules too soon is that we would risk a second spike in the virus with all the threats to life that that would bring
"And then the risk of a second lockdown whcih would prolong the economic pain that we’re all going through."