If people want social distancing to come to an end they need to take the coronavirus vaccine when it is offered to them, the deputy chief medical officer has said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said everyone is “fed up” with the measures, but low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine would mean restrictions lasting longer.
However, when he suggested it may be a good thing if some of the habits that have been picked up persist, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quick to suggest otherwise.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Prof Van-Tam said: “Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say, ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’, like the end of the war? No, I don’t.
“I think those kind of habits that we have learned from… will perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do.”
But Mr Johnson responded: “And maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.”
The comments came as the UK became the first country to grant regulatory approval to the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, with officials announcing rollout would begin next week.
But Prof Van-Tam cautioned that people need to be patient and continue to follow Government guidelines until told otherwise.
He said: “We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take.
“It is going to take months, not weeks.
“And for now, the other measures, the tier measures, the social distancing have to stay in place.
“If we relax too soon, if we just kind of go, ‘Oh, the vaccine’s here, let’s abandon caution’, all you are going to do is create a tidal wave of infections.
“And this vaccine has then got to work in a headwind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder.”
Prof Van-Tam added: “Everyone wants social distancing to come to an end – we are fed up with it.
“Nobody wants lockdowns and to see the damage they do.
“But if you want that dream to come true as quickly as it can come true, then you have to take the vaccine when it is offered to you.
“Low uptake will almost certainly make restrictions last longer.”
Prof Van-Tam also told the public not to rely on being protected by those who have been vaccinated, saying “the vaccine isn’t going to help you if you don’t take it”.
He warned: “Watching others take it and hoping that this will then protect you isn’t going to work, necessarily.”
The medic was of the opinion coronavirus will never be eradicated, and thinks it may get to the point where the disease becomes a seasonal problem.
“I think it’s going to be with humankind forever,” Prof Van-Tam said.
He concluded by saying: “I do like to be challenged when I have, perhaps, not made myself clear, and the Prime Minister has picked me up on this occasion, and it’s quite alright because it gives me a chance to clarify what I mean here.
“I do not think the Government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks, and hand sanitiser forever and a day.
“I hope we will get back to a much more normal world.
“But the point I was trying to make was – do I think, possibly, some of those personal habits for some people will persist longer and, perhaps, become enduring for some people, yes, I think that’s possible.”
After clarifying that the professor meant the habits as seen in the “Far East”, Mr Johnson said: “Well, who knows?”