Some coronavirus measures may have to remain in place for up to two more years, England's chief medical officer has said.
Chris Whitty addressed a wide range of questions about the pandemic during a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Thursday, April 1.
While he said technology and the ability to tailor vaccines to new variants will eventually "find a way through", there remains a level of risk until that happens.
He said that Brits will therefore have to remain cautious for up to two more years "because we've got such a difficult situation to go through at the moment".
Speaking at the webinar, Professor Whitty said: "What we don't want to be is in a situation where we look back in six months and say 'If we'd only just been a bit more cautious for a month or two we would've actually got through [vaccinating] the whole population, we'd have understood a lot more, we'd know how to deal with this, we'd probably have a few variant vaccines on the stocks'.
"I don't think though this should be seen as an indefinite posture.
"I think this is a matter of probably the next year or two whilst we understand how to do this and find a way of responding rapidly to variants."
Technology can "turn around a vaccine to a new variant incredibly fast, compared to how historically we've been able to do it", he said.
He added: "So I think technology will find a way through this in the long run, but we've got a period of risk between now and then."
He said that while the R rate is less than 1, variants coming in "don't have much of a foothold", but he added that R is anticipated to rise above 1 as more things open up in the lockdown exit road map.
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As for the long term, Prof Whitty repeated his assertion that coronavirus "is not going to go away", and said the future will be about working out how to "minimise mortality whilst not maximising the economic and particularly social impacts on our fellow citizens".
While he said he cannot see a system of local lockdowns returning, the emergence of a variant which was able to have "unconstrained growth" could mean an "alarm cord" must be pulled.
He said: "The only area where I think we technically are going to have to pull the alarm cord is if a variant of concern comes in that we can see is now back to a situation it could manage unconstrained growth, because the immunological response to it is just not there."
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