The government has determined how it intends to turn the COVID-19 epidemic into a long-term manageable virus.
In a 60-page roadmap, showing how it plans to deal with the crisis, officials have warned we could continue to see dangerous and seasonal increases next year and beyond.
The government said it could not rule out re-imposing economic and social restrictions at the local or regional level if it needed to suppress the Coron virus in the short term.
And funding for its outbreak management fund – which provides financial support to UK local authorities to reduce the spread of COVID-19 – will increase by another £ 400m to £ 2bn later in 2022.
According to the roadmap, we should expect that in the test system, tracking and isolation will be used to keep the virus in the test, ongoing asymptomatic tests continue in the sectors with the highest transfer rates and tests in the workplace.
In addition, there will be a set of other measures over the coming months – including COVID certification, international travel monitoring and social distance testing.
England’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Valance said at a press conference on Downing Street on Monday night that further steps might be needed.
He said, “We think it may be that … especially next winter, certain things may be necessary.
“Next winter it may be necessary to have things like wearing a mask in certain situations. And hygiene should remain part of the norm – to make sure that if we get different types of symptoms that we know are related to them (with COVID), we stay out of work.
“Existence of effective testing, monitoring and isolation systems will still be an important part of the basic metrics we are talking about.
“And taking individual responsibility … thinking about where there is an environment where they may be at risk, especially in the winter months, are the kind of things I think we should expect next winter.
“It all depends on what we see and what we measure and how it goes. I make no promise about anything, but these are the kinds of measures you can expect as a sort of foundation that will be required for the winter months.”
The government says in its roadmap there is no certainty when some of the steps it has will be removed – such as a social move away from a meter plus and wearing a mandatory mask in certain situations.
The chief medical officer of England, Professor Chris White, warned at the press conference that he expects COVID in the coming years to reflect annual flu outbreaks, which cause thousands of deaths each year.
The government’s hope is that the establishment of the new National Institutes of Health – which unites the UK’s public health, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Center for British Health Security – will help prevent or suppress future outbreaks.
But some scientists have said they fear the government’s plan does not go far in protecting the country from the potential future threat posed by the reactor virus.
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Martin Hybrid, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, said: “If you look at the modeling, I’m afraid that September this year will be very similar to September last year.
“With a little luck, I think we may escape the huge increase expected in the cases in June and July (thanks to the vaccines being better than we thought), but if so, we will eventually be too calm and then be open to new variants of vaccine escape to come and raise cases to September.
“Just like last year, we must plan to perform testing and traces to work (preferably back to PHE, NHS and local government) during the quiet summer months (hopefully) so that any new upheaval in cases can be quickly observed and avoided (without having to lock again next winter) .
“Where do we plan to make us flexible for future outbreaks? If we do not do it now, it will surely be forgotten until we need it.”