COVID restrictions may not be needed in winter as feared because Britain has a booster jab campaign, an expert has said.
Dr Mike Tildesley has hopes giving people a third shot from September will avoid a serious wave that puts us back into lockdown.
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Booster shots should mean Covid restrictions don’t make a comeback, Dr Mike Tildesley hopesCredit: LNP
The member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling told the BBC: “As we move into the winter there is always a greater risk and there’s always the potential for new variants to come along that evade the vaccine.
“So I think we do need to start thinking about that now, preparing for the winter…
“With a good booster vaccination campaign – not just for Covid actually, but also to really try to increase our vaccination uptake for flu as we go into the winter – hopefully we’ll be well prepared moving forward and we won’t need any sort of restrictions to be put in place as we move into the autumn and winter.
“I hope when we move into the autumn we can start to have a little bit more of what I call the flu relationship with Covid.”
The JCVI, which advises the government on how to use vaccines in the UK, said last week that should a rollout go ahead, it should start with the most vulnerable, such as over 70s, from September 2021.
Ministers will make a final decision later in the summer about whether to use a booster campaign.
But the NHS has been told to prepare for a rollout in case it gets given the green-light.
Giving people another shot of their vaccine would ensure they have maximum protection against Covid, therefore reducing the odds of another deadly wave.
Dr Tildesley, who has been part of modelling the outbreak for the scientific Government advisory group Sage, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that changes on July 19 will be irreversible.
They are unlikely to return later in the year, when respiratory viruses circulate more in the colder months, with the help of third jabs.
But while Dr Tildesley said the data “is certainly looking pretty healthy right now”, “there’s always a little bit of uncertainty”.
“Whilst we’re in the summer we know that transmission is always a little bit low in the summer, people tend to socialise in outdoor settings a little bit more which also helps”, he warned.
Other experts fear the UK is still not ready to open up ahead of the winter, even with jabs.
Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor/clinical virologist, University of Leicester, said it would “not be good” if flu and Covid make a comeback while restrictions are lifted.
“Similarly, these seasonal respiratory viruses combined with the usual cold winter exacerbations of chronic diseases – diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart, lung, kidney, neurological conditions – will be demanding for the NHS”, he said.
“But all of this is part of the process in ‘learning to live with the virus’ – and, as with flu, unfortunately, there will be casualties on the way.”
Health and science chiefs have previously warned that some restrictions may be needed to come in again in the autumn and winter to deal with seasonal spikes in disease.
Accepting Covid like flu
It comes as the UK waits to hear from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 5pm today that from July 19, society needs to get used to Covid.
“Freedom Day” is expected to see the majority of remaining restrictions dropped, including social distancing.
Mr Johnson is set to tell people from Downing Street this evening that face masks will no longer be required in many settings but voluntary in others.
He is likely to tell people that it will be left to their judgment how to reduce the risk posed by the virus, rather than expecting the Government to set out restrictions in law.
It has sparked debate among experts and ministers about what “learning to live with Covid” really looks like.
There has been firey debate over whether to keep face coverings in place after July 19. Pictured: Tennis fans queue up in masks at the All England Lawn Tennis Club for WimbeldonCredit: LNP
For example whether face coverings and general precautions should be scrapped entirely or used indefinitely.
Dr Tidesley said July 19 is “probably the right time” to consider ending the wearing of face masks.
“We know that of course masks have helped throughout the pandemic in terms of reducing the risk a little bit, but they’re part of a number of measures that do help to reduce the risk”, Dr Tildesley said.
He said he has been worried about suggestions that masks will be round for a long time because it can be difficult for people who are hard of hearing and those who struggle with their mental health.
“I think probably if we are going to remove them, 19th of July when we are seeing really low numbers of hospital admissions and low number of deaths, is probably the right time to consider it,” he said.
Sociology professor Robert Dingwall, Nottingham Trent University, said a voluntary face-covering basis was “a positive step”.
While Care minister Helen Whately told Times Radio she was looking forward to removing hers where she could.
“I’ll be looking at the guidance, I’ll be making a judgment, but I’m not keen to wear one when I don’t need one – personally, it’s not something I enjoy doing,” she said.
However, Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England’s medical director of primary care, stressed the importance of face masks in preventing the spread.
“I think one of the things that we know is, masks work,” she told Times Radio.
“Let’s see what the announcements are, but certainly, if there is advice to keep wearing masks, I know I will and I’ll be encouraging others to do so as well.”
Professor Calum Semple, a member of Sage and professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told Sky News he may continue to wear a mask after July 19.
He said those who were double-jabbed were “far less at risk” of catching Covid now.