The ‘new normal’ is with us for a very long time – leading scientist

Professor Helen Rees is a member of the World Health Organisation’s emergency committee for Covid-19.

A person passes a ‘Don’t help the virus spread’ government coronavirus sign in Bournemouth
A person passes a ‘Don’t help the virus spread’ government coronavirus sign in Bournemouth

The “new normal” brought about by the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be here for quite some time, with a change not likely until well into 2022, a leading scientist has said.

Professor Helen Rees, who is a member of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency committee for Covid-19, said measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing will have to continue.

Her comments are the latest in a line of views shared by experts about when a sense of normality is likely to return.

Prof Rees, who is from South Africa but has family in Wales, told BBC Wales Live: “I’m afraid to say… I think we are going to be well into next year before we see a change – that change is likely to be caused by high coverage of the vaccines,” she said.

“I think this new normal we all talk about is with us for a very long time.

“The mask-wearing, the distancing – all of the measures that we have put in place – will have to continue.

“This virus is nasty and this virus knows how to change. If we want to get rid of it, my advice to the politicians is to continue what you are doing – to have these measures,” she said.

Meanwhile on Thursday morning, Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises ministers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the country would be “more or less” back to normal for the summer.

“Once the most vulnerable people, particularly those over 50 and those with chronic illnesses, are vaccinated then yes I think we can see a significant return to normality,” he said.

“That in addition to the fact coronavirus is a seasonal disease, I think will make a big difference and allow us to open up.

“I think what we’ll see is a phased opening up as the vaccination levels increase, and then we will be more or less back to normal for the summer, I would imagine.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he believed people would be able to meet up with friends and family from March.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One he would like to see schools, and particularly junior schools, opening relatively soon.

Asked about when people could start to see friends and family, Prof Hunter replied: “Personally I believe we should be able to start doing that probably not long after (schools reopen) – if I had to bet on a time, I’d say some time in March certainly.”

On being allowed back into restaurants, he added: “I think that will be probably around the same time, maybe April. But again, it just depends what happens with the epidemic between now and then.”

Prof Hunter said on Wednesday that some form of social distancing may need to continue until spring 2022 even with effective vaccines.

He said measures would be needed through next winter to prevent a spike in deaths, largely among people who have not had a vaccine.

Elsewhere, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the prospect of all adults receiving both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine by August is “very optimistic”.

He said that while the vaccine rollout was “extraordinarily fast” – with more than 10 million people in the UK having now received their first dose – there were supply constraints.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, he said “logistics aren’t about optimism” when he was asked about the timescale of every adult being offered a first dose by May and a second by August.

“I think that May and August strike me as at the very optimistic end,” he said.

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