SAGE expert Professor John Edmunds has warned that the Bristol Covid-19 variant may reinfect people who have already been vaccinated, giving rise to a “real worry” of a new wave.
He told ITV’s Robert Peston: “Where it has an advantage, potentially at least, is that it may be able to reinfect people who have been previously infected or have been previously vaccinated – that’s the real worry with that particular virus.”
While the government’s programme of vaccinating the more vulnerable groups – such as the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions – is going well, Professor Edmunds says that it would be "very dangerous" to let the virus rip through the rest of the population.
He went on to predict that at least some of the current lockdown restrictions would be with us "probably forever”.
Turning to the issue of re-opening schools, Professor Edmunds said that it should probably be a gradual process, with the all-important R rate being monitored carefully throughout: "If we opened up schools I think that the reproduction number would get close to one and possibly exceed one.
"If we opened them up completely – if we opened secondary schools and primary schools both at the same time – I suspect we'd be lucky to keep the reproduction number below one.
"I think we have to do everything very gradually and see how it goes."
The Bristol variant is one of three strains of the virus that have been identified across the country.
People in the UK are going to have to “get used to the idea of vaccinating and revaccinating in the autumn as we face these new variants”, PM Boris Johnson told parliament on February 10.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said he doesn’t think the B.1351 “South African” variant of the virus “is going to be a dominant issue in the next few months”.
Speaking on BBC News, he said 90% of cases in the UK at the moment are caused by the B.1.1.7, or E484K, variant, which was first spotted in Kent.
Professor Sharon Peacock, the head of the UK's genetic surveillance programme, has said that the Kent variant has already been detected in more than 50 countries and is on course to “sweep the world, in all probability.”
Sounding a gloomy long-term note she told BBC’s Newscast podcast "Once we get on top of [the virus] or it mutates itself out of being virulent – causing disease – then we can stop worrying about it.
She added: "But I think, looking in the future, we're going to be doing this for years.
"We're still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view."
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