Government expert says third coronavirus wave 'entirely possible'

Government science adviser says coronavirus lockdowns ‘defer the problem’ rather than solve it as he warns it is ‘entirely possible’ there will be a third wave of infections next year

  • Professor Mark Woolhouse sits on one of Government’s expert Covid-19 panels
  • He said it is ‘doubtful’ a vaccine will be ready for mass roll-out in six months
  • Prof Woolhouse also warned third wave of infections ‘entirely possible’ next year 

A Government science adviser today said coronavirus lockdowns ‘defer the problem’ rather than solve it as he warned it is ‘doubtful’ there will be a coronavirus vaccine ready for mass roll-out in six months. 

Professor Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh also said a third wave of infections next year is ‘entirely possible’. 

Prof Woolhouse, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), suggested the UK will have to live with the virus until ‘some kind of cavalry’ comes to the nation’s rescue in the form of a vaccine or rapid testing.

He said that while people involved in the creation of a Covid-19 jab believe one may be ready by March it is likely to take longer for it to become widely available.     

Professor Mark Woolhouse today warned it is ‘entirely possible’ there will be a third wave of coronavirus infections as he also said it was ‘doubtful’ a vaccine will be ready for mass roll-out in six months

Boris Johnson last week announced fresh coronavirus restrictions to slow the spread of the disease as the Prime Minister said the new crackdown could be in place for six months. 

Prof Woolhouse told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the Government’s strategy appeared to be to try to ‘stick this out’ until there is a vaccine. 

But he urged caution on the timeline for when scientists could be in a position to roll out a jab.  

‘The Government’s strategy is to stick this out for another six months, that is what we are told, and implicitly in that the expectation is after six months something will be different and the obvious something is for there to be a vaccine available,’ he said. 

‘I have to say that most people I have talked to who are involved in vaccine development think that we may have a vaccine in six months but it is doubtful that we will have been able to roll it out on a mass scale by that time.

‘So we are in a difficult situation for some months to come I am afraid.’  

Ministers have not ruled out imposing another national lockdown but Prof Woolhouse said that would simply ‘defer the problem’. 

Asked if the Government had modelled anything other than a nationwide shutdown at the start of the pandemic, he said: ‘Basically no and that is a worry because when we started modelling this way back in March, before the first lockdown, it was very apparent from the work that my group did and many other groups did, that all a lockdown ever did is defer the problem. 

‘It solves an immediate crisis because it reduces transmission quickly, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem in the long term. It doesn’t make the virus go away.’

Prof Woolhouse suggested until the ‘cavalry’ arrives the UK will have to live with the disease. 

Asked if there could be a third wave of infections, he said: ‘That is entirely possible. A scenario I mentioned earlier does actually include this possibility and this is just another demonstration of what I was saying earlier that lockdown doesn’t solve the problem, it defers it.

‘That is why we need some kind of cavalry on the horizon or alternatively if we think that vaccine is not going to be available in six months or 12 months or two years or whenever it may be that we do need alternatives.

‘The alternatives that have been mentioned so far are things like the moonshot programme on mass testing and there may be others on the horizon too.’

Announcing his latest coronavirus crackdown on Tuesday last week, Mr Johnson said the measures could be in place for six months. 

He told MPs in the House of Commons: ‘We will spare no effort in developing vaccines, treatments and new forms of mass-testing.  

‘But unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.

‘For the time being, this virus is a fact of our lives and I must tell the House and the country that our fight against it will continue.’  

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