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Coronavirus officially spread to the UK on January 23 when a patient infected with the virus landed in the UK. Now, a year on, the pandemic is still a dangerous threat to the lives of millions around the country with more than 3.7 million people have contracted the virus so far, with more than 103,000 have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test. But what exactly will 2021 look like in terms of the Covid pandemic – Express.co.uk asks an expert to share his forecast for coronavirus in 2021.
The WHO declared the coronavirus crisis a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020.
January 30 marks the one year since that declaration was made.
This designation is made when “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response”, formulated when a situation arises that is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected”, which “carries implications for public health beyond the affected state’s national border” and “may require immediate international action”.
As things currently stand, there have been more than 102 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, of which 2.2 million people have died.
Coronavirus vaccination efforts are underway around the globe, with more than 76.4 million have received the vaccine so far.
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Professor Martin Michaelis, virologist and professor of molecular medicine at the University of Kent, provided insight into what he believes the second year of this emergency is likely to hold.
Professor Michaelis told Express.co.uk: “This is impossible to predict with certainty. The roll-out of vaccines is good news, and more effective drug therapies will become available at some point.
“However, the current Covid-19 levels remain very high in many parts of the world.
“This is of concern because increasing levels of immunity due to vaccination and previous infection start to exert a selection pressure that favours the formation of novel variants that can escape immune recognition.
“The recent detection of novel variants in the UK, Brazil, and South Africa illustrates this.”
He added the new coronavirus vaccine will have a part to play in the pandemic’s future.
The new Novavax jab is the first to show in trials it is effective against the new virus variant found in the UK.
The Novavax vaccine has been shown to be 89.3 percent effective in large-scale UK trials and the UK has thus far secured 60 million doses of the jab.
Professor Michaelis said: “In agreement, very recent data on the Novavax vaccine show that this vaccine is much more effective against strains of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, circulating in the UK than against those circulating in South Africa.
“Since the formation of new variants is a stochastic process driven by random mutations during virus replication, a high number of infected people is associated with a high risk of novel variants that are not covered by vaccines or pre-existing immunity from previous infections.
“Hence, current vaccines may need to be adapted prior to the end of this first vaccination campaign.
“This is possible but will take time. Therefore, our exit out of this pandemic will not be as smooth as many may have hoped, and restrictions may have to be in place for longer than anticipated.”
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Despite rising rates of new coronavirus cases and the new Covid variants cropping up around the globe, Professor Michaelis remains optimistic the pandemic will be brought under control in 2021.
The virologist told Express.co.uk: “Nevertheless, there is a good chance that we will get the pandemic under control in the course of the year, at least in the developed countries that have access to vaccines.
“If we can get the Covid-19 numbers down, we reduce the chance that novel variants emerge.
“With increased testing, we can identify and contain outbreaks early before sweeping restrictions are needed.
“However, we will also learn that Covid-19 is a global problem and that we are not safe as long as the disease is spreading in many areas of the world.
“Even once we have Covid-19 under control in the UK, we will live with the threat of its reintroduction from other places.”
But will Covid-19 be like the flu requiring regular top-up jabs each year?
Professor Michaelis said: “Covid-19 is now endemic in humans, which means it is so common that it is unlikely to go away.
“The emergence of novel variants indicates that SARS-CoV-2 can adapt to a changing situation, which makes its eradication even more difficult.
“It is difficult to predict, however, whether Covid-19 will develop a seasonal pattern as we know it from the flu.
“Hence, we will have to live with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future but we do not know how the transmission dynamics will develop.”
He added it is most likely people around the world will require top-up jabs each year to protect themselves against coronavirus.
Professor Michaelis said: “We see that novel variants emerge, and we know from experimental studies that SARS-CoV-2 can evolve to evade recognition by antibodies, which are a core part of of our natural immune response.
“Moreover, COVID-19 may not be associated with long-term immunity as we know it from other viral diseases such as measles.
“Therefore, a scenario in which we have yearly COVID-19 vaccinations appears very likely.”
With lockdowns being repeatedly implemented, many experts claim lockdowns may in fact become a part of the life cycle of living in a post-Covid-19 world.
Professor Michaelis believes general lockdowns may not be required depending on the relevant states of the outbreak in each country, but that some restrictions on normal life may remain in effect throughout all of 2021.
He told Express.co.uk: “I think we will learn to live with Covid-19 in a way that may require restrictions but not strict lockdowns anymore.
“Countries including Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore have shown us how you can suppress Covid-19 spread to a level, at which general lockdowns are not needed anymore.
“These countries have achieved this without vaccines and without the substantial testing capacities that we have now.
“Hence, it may require a significant effort, but we should be able to achieve what these countries have achieved already, in particular now that vaccines are available and mass testing is feasible.”
Fundamentally, the professor of molecular medicine claims the future of the pandemic and its formation is contingent on how each state handles the crisis and what actions each takes.
Professor Michaelis added: “If we take one big effort to bring the numbers down to very low levels, something around one case per million residents per day, we will be able to control individual cases of Covid-19 transmission by isolating infected individuals and their contacts without sweeping measures.
“If we do not take such a decisive step, progress will be slower and we will have more of a bumpy ride with new variants and smaller and larger flare-ups.
“If the numbers remain very high and particularly dangerous new variants emerge, we may have to start our vaccination programmes from scratch.”
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