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Professor Believes UK Could Be In Cycles Of Lockdown For 'Years'

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Professor Believes UK Could Be In Cycles Of Lockdown For 'Years'

A professor has warned that the UK could be stuck in cycles of lockdown for years as the coronavirus mutates into different variants and strains.

However, he also argues that tougher measures taken now, and for longer, might help prevent vaccine-resistant strains while the immunisations are rolled out.

Professor Sir Ian Boyd is an expert in infectious diseases from the University of St Andrews, and is also a member of SAGE, the government's special scientific advisory group.

He reckons the emergence of strains of Covid-19 that are potentially resistant to the vaccines could leave the UK stuck in a holding pattern of 'control and release for a long time to come'.

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While that isn't a cheery thought, it's definitely one that we should be taking seriously.

Longer lockdowns reduce transmission, driving hospital admissions down. Credit: PA
Longer lockdowns reduce transmission, driving hospital admissions down. Credit: PA

Evidence released over the past few days has shown that the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University doesn't stop people getting ill after they've contracted the virus variant that has been discovered in South Africa.

That variant isn't the dominant one over here just now, but it's a warning that we should heed, as cases have been recorded.

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It's worth pointing out that the government believes that the vaccine will still be effective against severe illness and death as a result of the virus.

Professor Boyd, along with many colleagues from SAGE, have warned that reopening society too quickly from the current national lockdown could risk allowing these new and concerning variants to spread more freely.

Mutations will always happen where viruses are concerned - that's how they keep themselves going - but with each variation comes a new risk, and higher rates of transmission gives the virus more opportunities to mutate.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may not stop those with the South Africa variant getting ill. Credit: PA
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may not stop those with the South Africa variant getting ill. Credit: PA
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Speaking to The Times, Professor Boyd said: "It stands to reason that the more people there are in the population with infections - the prevalence - the more virus that is replicating and the more chance there is of even highly improbable mutations happening."

He also believes that even if we tackle the South African variant properly, there will be more worrying ones in the post for down the line.

Boyd added: "My suspicion is that we will experience a damped oscillation of control-release for a long time to come - perhaps several years."

As for the lockdowns, Boyd's SAGE colleague Professor Graham Medley, another infectious disease specialist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that 'everything works better' if the prevalence of the disease is lower, arguing that the emergence of new variants 'strengthens that case'.

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The government has attracted criticism from some Tory backbenchers because of what they perceive as 'moving the goalposts' when it comes to releasing restrictions.

The government has been accused of 'moving the goalposts' with regards to relaxing restrictions. Credit: PA
The government has been accused of 'moving the goalposts' with regards to relaxing restrictions. Credit: PA

While there had been plans for a review of lockdown when the most at-risk categories had received their first dose of vaccine, in an attempt to drive hospital admission and deaths down, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock have admitted that longer restrictions could be considered, given the emergence of the South African strain.

Another expert, Professor Robin Shattock, has also advocated for a longer lockdown.

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The Imperial College London expert on advanced vaccine development said: "It would be very advisable to try to push the cases as low as possible to reduce the chance of additional variants. This would make sense alongside border restrictions."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Science, UK News, Coronavirus

Tom Wood
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