BRITAIN is in a Grand National-style race to beat Covid and must not fall at the final fence, Jonathan Van-Tam warned tonight.
The deputy chief medical officer also said lockdown will probably be with us until “mid to late Spring” as he answered Sun readers’ questions in an exclusive chat.
But if Brits start easing up on lockdown rules now “they are going to give the vaccine a headwind to run into”, he warned.
In a rallying cry to the nation, he urged the country to “not relax” when the end is in sight.
Britain is leading the world in its vaccination programme, but tens of millions will need to be jabbed before infection rates are slashed and strict rules can be torn up, he added.
He told Sun readers today: “That’s the problem right now – disease activity is really high. But people are starting to think, oh well the vaccine is coming along I can relax a bit now.
“No, no no no. The vaccine effects are going to take three months until we see them properly, and until then no one can relax.
“We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it.”
He said even those who have received their jabs must stick to lockdown and social distancing rules for now.
On lockdown rules being lifted, he added: “That is not until, my guess, the mid to late Spring. And people have got to be patient with that.”
Matt Hancock has previously set four tests for lifting Britain’s lockdown measures.
The number of deaths and hospitalisations needs to be coming down, no new variants that cause problems, and the vaccination programme being rolled out as planned all must happen first.
It’s unlikely to be until the end of February at the very earliest, but ministers have refused to put a time-frame on it.
JAB THE NATION
After around three months of mass vaccinations Britain will be “in a different place”, he said.
He rubbished speculation the UK will need to move to 3 metres social distancing – insisting the current measures are right and just need sticking to.
Prof Van-Tam said the nation is facing a “very difficult couple of months”.
The country must adopt a “surround-sound” strategy for crushing Covid – vaccinating tens of millions so infection rates are slashed, chains of transmission broken, and pressure on hospitals eased – he said.
The top medic also predicted Brits may choose to wear masks forever on packed tubes and crowded spaces to protect them from infection, as the pandemic has “changed the way” people see hygiene.
He explained: “We all carry hand sanitiser around now, we all expect in most of the places we go into that hand sanitiser is provided at the door.
“I think there are going to be people who make a personal decision to say, you know what, when I’m in a crowded place in the winter I’m going to put a face covering on. When I’m on a tube I am going to put a face covering on.”
He also said the virus would not be wiped out altogether, stressing: “I don’t think we are ever going to take this virus away out of humankind.”
There will likely be even MORE mutant strains of the virus as it continues to change, he added.
“I think the virus is going to continue to change over time, as the disease has already shown signs of doing.”