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Covid ‘will soon be no worse than the common cold’

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Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said Britain was “over the worst” and “should be fine” once winter has passed. He said: “If you look at the trajectory we are on, we’re a lot better off than we were six months ago.

“The pressure on the NHS is largely abated. If you look at the deaths from Covid, they tend to be very elderly people, and it’s not entirely clear it was Covid that caused all those deaths.

“So I think we’re over the worst of it now.” His comments came after Oxford vaccine pioneer Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert suggested the virus was likely to become weaker over time.

She said: “We normally see that viruses become less virulent as they circulate more easily and there is no reason to think we will have a more virulent version of Sars-CoV-2. 

“We tend to see slow genetic drift of the virus and there will be gradual immunity developing in the population, as there is to all the other seasonal coronaviruses.” 

Such seasonal coronaviruses cause colds, and Dame Sarah said: “Eventually Sars-CoV-2 will become one of those.”

Asked about her comments yesterday, Sir John said the country was “headed for the position Sarah describes probably by next spring”.

Sir John said exposure to the Delta variant would build immunity in the population, even if vaccinated individuals do not develop symptoms.

The UK vaccination programme is thought to have prevented between 119,500 and 126,800 deaths in England since it launched last December. 

Latest estimates from Public Health England suggest 230,800 hospital admissions and around 24 million infections have been avoided.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March last year, said it was unlikely the country would have to go back into lockdown. 

He added: “As long as we can roll out the booster programme and the vaccination of teenagers as promptly as possible, I’m moderately optimistic. I very much doubt we will need to go back into lockdown again.”

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