Wokingham.Today

CORONAVIRUS: ‘The country can be normal by autumn’

Professor Ben Cowling
Professor Ben Cowling

Wokingham borough’s World Health Organisation Covid-19 expert is warning the next few months will be tough.

He hopes the UK will be “back to normal” by September but covid may not entirely disappear. And next winter deaths are likely, but at a lower rate.

Professor Ben Cowling, who is from Sonning, said this week: “I hope the tighter measures plus the increasing coverage of vaccinations will lead to a reduction in case numbers, but the next few months will be tough.”

At the start of February last year, Professor Cowling predicted the start of a UK Covid-19 epidemic by early March. At the time, there were just two cases reported in the UK – but he was right.

Prof Cowling, who went to Sonning Primary, said: “Vaccines are the great hope, and it’s now really important to step up the vaccination rate.

“Once around 40% to 50% of the population have been vaccinated there should be noticeable reductions in case numbers with the social distancing measures still in place.”

“Once (vaccination) coverage goes higher and higher I would expect the social distancing measures to be gradually relaxed.”

Professor Cowling added: “I would hope the UK to be ‘back to normal’ by September, but covid may not entirely disappear and next winter it is likely that it will continue to cause hospitalisations and deaths.”

But numbers for those, he added, would be perhaps more like those for seasonal flu.

Public health measures might be “more comparable to how we respond to flu seasons.”

Prof Cowling, an epidemiologist (disease spread and control expert), has had hundreds of academic articles published.

He is Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Control in Hong Kong.

Asked how other countries persuade people to keep to the rules in ways UK people would go along with, Professor Cowling said: “It’s difficult, everyone is getting tired of the social distancing.”

Policing minister Kit Malthouse on Tuesday told BBC Breakfast that people had a “duty” to make this lockdown “the last one”.

“We are urging the small minority of people who aren’t taking this seriously to do so now, and [are illustrating] to them that if they don’t they are much more likely to get fined by the police,” he said.

Asked if schools should be closed completely Professor Cowling said: “The evidence available so far indicates that closure of kindergartens and primary schools really doesn’t have much impact on covid spread and it’s extremely disruptive to working parents.”

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