COVID-19 could continue to pose a “difficult” situation for the next three months but “we can see the end in sight”, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on the virus has said.
Disease experts are looking at when coronavirus will become endemic and how governments will need to change the way it is managed in the future.
The WHO’s Dr David Nabarro told Sky News: “I’m afraid we are moving through the marathon but there’s no actual way to say that we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there. And there’s going to be some bumps before we get there.”
‘Difficult’ next three months
Mr Johnson is understood to be unlikely to set out further plans while case rates remain high and the NHS strains under significant pressures.
Dr Nabarro said: “First of all, this virus is continuing to evolve – we have Omicron but we’ll get more variants.
“Secondly, it really is affecting the whole world. And, whilst health services in Western Europe are just about coping, in many other parts of the world, they are completely overwhelmed.
“And thirdly, it’s really clear that there’s no scope for major restrictions in any country, particularly poor countries.
“People have just got to keep working and so there are some very tough choices for politicians right now.
“It’s going to be difficult for the next three months at least.”
Pressure to cut self-isolation period
Housing secretary Michael Gove told Sky News on Monday: “We are moving to a situation – we are not there yet – but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with COVID and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.
“But, it is absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet.”
Ministers are also under pressure to cut the self-isolation time for cases to five days from seven, in line with the US.
In the UK, the isolation period starts from when people first experience symptoms, or the day they had their COVID test if they did not have symptoms.
But in America it is from when they test positive for coronavirus.
Mr Gove said the situation was always kept under review.
COVID surges ‘every three or four months’
Asked about a suggestion that there could be coronavirus surges two or three times a year, Dr Nabarro, said: “The way this virus is behaving, and has behaved really since we first met it, is that it builds up and then surges quite dramatically, and then it comes down again, and then surges again about every three or four months.
“It’s difficult to use past behaviour to predict the future. And I don’t like doing that too much.
“But I would agree that the pattern, I think, that is going to happen with this virus is continued surges, and living with COVID means being able to prepare for these surges and to react and really quickly when they occur.
“Life can go on, we can get the economy going again in many countries, but we just have to be really respectful of the virus and that means having really good plans in place for dealing with the surges.”