Some UK social distancing likely for next year: chief medic

LONDON (Reuters) – Restrictions on everyday life in Britain to slow the spread of COVID-19 are likely to be needed for the “next calendar year” due to the time needed to develop and roll out vaccines or find a cure, the country’s top medic said on Wednesday.

Britain is in the fifth week of a lockdown that only allows people to leave home for essential work, food shopping, exercise and limited other reasons.

The government said last Thursday the full restrictions would remain in place for at least another three weeks, and its chief medical adviser, Chris Whitty, said on Wednesday some forms of social distancing would be needed for much longer.

Normal life will only return once an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is available, Whitty said at the government’s daily news conference.

“Until we have those – and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small, and I think we should be realistic about that – we’re going to have to rely on other social measures,” he said.

The United Kingdom reported its highest daily hospital death toll on April 9, when fatalities peaked at 980, and since then the number of hospital deaths reported each day has oscillated between 449 and 917.

There were 763 new deaths reported on Wednesday, taking the total to 18,100.

Whitty said the descent in new cases and deaths was likely to be slow, given the experience of other European countries.

“If people are hoping that it’s suddenly going to move from where we are now, in lockdown, suddenly into ‘everything’s gone’, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation,” he said.

“We’re going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time.”

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