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Top medic Jonathan Van-Tam warns UK may have to live with Covid-19 for ‘several years’

The deputy chief medical officer warned that a vaccine may never emerge.

3 min read

Britain may have to live with coronavirus for “several years”, one of the country’s most senior medical advisers has warned.

Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam told the daily Downing Street press conference that the world “can’t be sure we will get a vaccine”, despite people “hoping and praying” that Covid-19 will “just go away”.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma on Sunday said up to 30 million Brits could be given a vaccine against coronavirus by September if a trial being carried out by Oxford University researchers proved successful.

Mr Sharma said Britain would be the “first to get access” as part of a tie-up between the university and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

But Professor Van-Tam urged caution as he made clear on Monday night that the country is likely to be battling to contain the virus over a much longer timeframe.

“Many people are just hoping and praying that this virus will just go away, as indeed I hope and pray it will,” he said.

“But the reality is that, certainly, until we get a vaccine, and only if we get a vaccine that is really capable of suppressing disease levels will we ever be what we might call 'out of this'? 

“From that perspective we may have to live, and learn to live, with this virus for the long-term and certainly for many months to come, if not several years.

“A vaccine may change that but we can't be sure we will get a vaccine.”

"We can't be sure we will get a vaccine" - Jonathan Van-Tam

The downbeat assessment came despite Professor Van-Tam pointing to what he called a “definite and sustained decline in new cases which continues to be encouraging“.

New figures show that 2,684 people tested positive for Covid-19 at the latest count, while 160 more people have died from the virus.

That takes the UK’s death toll across all settings to 34,796, with 246,406 positive cases now confirmed through testing.

Professor Van Tam said the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 was now in “sustained decline”. 

And he added: “The overall longterm trend is... showing a consistent and solid decline as the days and weeks roll by."

The latest press conference came after Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed that more than 21,000 contact tracers had now been recruited as part of the Government’s plan to “test, track and trace” the spread of Covid-19, as ministers begin to tentatively ease the country’s lockdown.

Meanwhile loss of smell or taste has been officially added to the list of coronavirus symptoms.

Defending the time taken to add those symptoms - known as anosmia - the official guidance, Professor Van Tam said a “painstaking and very careful analysis” had been required to identify the most common effects of the disease.

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