New Covid-19 variant less easy to control through lockdown – expert

The new variant of Covid-19 will not be as easy to control through lockdown as the old variant, an infectious diseases expert has warned.

Professor Mark Woolhouse said that people should temper expectations about the impact of the current lockdown and that simply stopping the situation getting any worse “would be a good outcome.”

Lockdown measures have been imposed across the UK to combat the further spread of the new, more infectious strain of the virus.

Prof Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said it is too early to tell what the impact of the new measures will be.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “It should be about a week before we see the immediate impact on cases. We have to be careful here and temper expectations.

“The new variant is not going to be as easy to control as the old variant, the one that was controlled by the lockdown in March, so we’ll have to wait and see whether it’s actually a decrease in cases or simply stopping the situation getting worse, stopping there being any further increase, and that, at this point in time, would be a good outcome.

“The epidemiologists are in two minds. Some people say that the schools being out will decrease the number of cases but some have said the Christmas holidays will have increased them so I’m afraid we’re going to have to wait and see for a couple of weeks before we know clearly what the trends are.

“What we have to be prepared for, as Nicola Sturgeon has said, is the fact that this is going to go on for some time yet.”

Professor Woolhouse, a member of the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 advisory group, said the vaccines are the “light at the end of the tunnel” and that once the most vulnerable people are protected that will reduce the likelihood of people ending up in hospital.

Asked how soon lockdown restrictions could be eased he said there will be some scope for relaxing restrictions over the next few months but added “I don’t think anyone should anticipate a full return to normality for really quite some time.”

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has said that some restrictions may have to be introduced again next winter to combat the virus.

Coronavirus – Mon Jan 4, 2021
Professor Woolhouse said that vaccines offer hope (Ben Birchall/PA)

Professor Woolhouse said this was “pessimistic” but described it as “a plausible scenario”.

He said: “At the moment there is no prospect at all of this virus going away so we’re going to have to learn to live with it.

“I very much hope they’re not social-distancing, lockdown-type restrictions, they don’t need to be.

“Testing, mass testing, test and trace, isolation of cases, hygiene, social distancing when we meet, that all helps. My hope is that that will be enough for next winter.

All of the UK is now under stringent coronavirus restrictions. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown on Scotland for the rest of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home and schools closed to most pupils until February.

Regulations enforcing a national lockdown in England came into effect at 12.01am on Wednesday, with all schools shutting to most students and people told to stay at home.

Schools and colleges in Wales will also remain closed until at least January 18 and move to online learning and the country is at Alert Level 4, meaning people should stay at home, not mix with other households and not travel without a reasonable excuse.

And in Northern Ireland – which is already under a six-week lockdown – “stay at home” restrictions will be brought back into law and a period of remote learning for schoolchildren will be extended.

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