The UK risks a new wave of coronavirus as large as the current one if coronavirus restrictions are lifted too soon, a government scientific advisor has said.
Professor Steven Riley said the “incredibly successful” rollout of the vaccine and “incredibly high vast uptake” does not mean the country can simply do away with measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
“No vaccine is perfect. We are certainly going to be in the situation where we can allow more infection in the community but there is a limit,”the member of the SPI-M modelling group said.
“In the short term, if we were to allow a very large wave of infection, that wave will find all the people who couldn’t have the vaccine for good reason [and] those people that had the vaccine but unfortunately didn’t give them the protection they need.”
Prof Riley told the BBC’sToday programme on Saturday: “I think scientists are genuinely worried. We don’t want to show that it is an excellent but not perfect vaccine by having another large wave in the UK.”
He said nearly one fifth of the UK population was aged 65 years or over, and “back of the envelope” calculations for a “very good but not perfect” vaccine suggested “the potential for another really substantial wave”.
When asked whether this potential wave could be as large as the current one, he said: “I don’t believe anyone expects we are suddenly going to lift all the social restrictions.”
But he added: “If for some reason we were to choose to just pretend it [coronavirus] wasn’t here any more at some point, then there is the potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now.”
Earlier this week, Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England’s (PHE) leading coronavirus strategist, warned some restrictions may have to stay in place until every adult has been vaccinated.
More than 14 million people have had a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK as of Thursday, according to government data, while over half a million have received their second dose.
A leading scientist advising the government said the “best estimates” suggest tier two-style restrictions could be in place by May, with the “rule of six” for social gatherings outdoors and pubs and restaurants serving meals.