05/01/2021 17:45 GMT | Updated 05/01/2021 18:19 GMT

Coronavirus Restrictions Might Be Needed Next Winter, Warns Chris Whitty

Chief medical officer and Boris Johnson also warn current lockdown could stretch beyond March if public ignore the rules.

Coronavirus restrictions may be needed next winter, Chris Whitty has warned. 

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, England’s chief medical officer said curbs could be reintroduced this time next year, despite vaccines being rolled out

“If we did not do all the things all of us must now do, if people don’t take the stay at home seriously, the risk at this point in time, in the middle of winter with this new variant, is extraordinarily high,” he said.

Whitty said the risk level will gradually decrease over time with measures being “lifted by degrees possibly at different rates in different parts of the country, we’ll have to see”.

“We’ll then get over time to a point where people say this level of risk is something society is prepared to tolerate and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all,” he added.

“We might have to bring in a few in next winter for example, that’s possible, because winter will benefit the virus.”

Whitty added that coronavirus was “not going to go away” just as the flu does not.

He went on to say, however, that if needed restrictions next winter would be “nothing on the scale we are having to do at the moment”, adding: “We shouldn’t kid ourselves this disappears with spring.” 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) in Downing Street, London.

It comes as new figures revealed more than one million people in England had Covid-19 last week and as the country begins a third national lockdown set to last seven weeks. 

It means that around one in 50 people in the country has coronavirus. 

Boris Johnson warned that the new lockdown could last beyond March if people failed to obey the stay at home advice. 

He said: “When a very considerable proportion of the most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated … then there really is the prospect of beginning the relaxation of some of these measures.

“But you will also appreciate there are a lot of caveats, a lot of ifs built into that, the most important of which is that we all now follow the guidance.”

Whitty said that one in 50 people being estimated to have coronavirus across the UK is “really quite a large number indeed”.

He said the second lockdown had brought down rates, added: “But then we had the problems with the new variant and the worst period of winter combining to lead to a significant increase since that time. And we’re now into a situation where, across the country as a whole, roughly one in 50 people have got the virus,” he continued.

“One in 50 is really quite a large number indeed.”

The chief medical adviser also said the vaccine timetable was “realistic but not easy”.

He added: “The NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out but they are very determined to do this, but that does not make it easy.

“And, of course, in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, as I think is widely reported, it’s more difficult to handle because of the complicated cold chain model.

“We also, with both vaccines, wanted to be very careful in the first two or three days that we went a little bit slowly just in case there were some initial unexpected problems.”