Vaccines and improved treatment could mean that Covid-19 becomes an illness we live with “like we do with flu”, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, he said the arrival of new drugs arriving by the end of 2021 could make coronavirus a “treatable disease”, hailing them – and vaccines – as “our way out to freedom”.
With more than 14 million people in the UK having already received the first dose of a vaccine, Hancock said he hoped all adults in the country could be offered a job “a bit before” September.
The health secretary said new treatments would be necessary for a “small number” of people who might not be protected by vaccines. A number of treatments, including antibody therapy for people with impaired immune systems, are currently being tested.
“I hope that Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year,” Hancock told the Telegraph.
New treatments will play an important role in “turning Covid from a pandemic that affects all of our lives into another illness that we have to live with, like we do with flu. That’s where we need to get Covid to over the months to come.”
Living with coronavirus safely hinges on reducing the number of people with the virus admitted to hospital, bringing down the number of deaths and cutting transmission of the virus.
“If Covid-19 ends up like flu, so we live our normal lives and we mitigate through vaccines and treatments, then we can get on with everything again,” Hancock said.
The health secretary’s comments suggested that the UK will not be seeking a ‘zero Covid’ strategy – which would see the government attempt to completely wipe out the virus.
Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of medical journal the Lancet, told the BBC that, if the UK decides ‘zero Covid’ is impossible, politicians will be forced to decide what level of deaths is conscionable, adding that in some years 30,000 die from flue.
“That’s a conversation politicians are going to have to have with the country,” he said, adding that it might take up to four years to build up immunity in the population.
“It’s an illusion to think that our success is going to be sufficient to protect us, because even if we do have high levels of population immunity, our borders are not going to be secure – and we can’t keep locking people up in hotels for the next five years,” Dr Horton said.