New ‘3m rule’ will ‘do little to stop mutant spread’, warns JVT – as he admits we’ll never eradicate Covid
INCREASING social distancing to three metres won't stop the mutant spread of Covid, England's deputy chief medical officer has said.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam admitted that coronavirus will likely never be eradicated – and warned Brits are facing a "very dangerous time".
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Discussing reports on changing the 2m rule, the expert said he could not see how Covid-19 droplets would gain the extra distance "like in the long jump".
Prof Van-Tam also went on to say that changing the social distancing rule to three metres would have little impact on controlling the spread.
It follows reports which suggested Government scientists want the recommended gap increased from one metre, if mitigation measures such as masks or screens are in place, to two metres.
That would mean an increase in distancing from two metres to three metres without mitigation.
GOING THE DISTANCE
Prof Van-Tam told LBC Radio: "The question you are asking is whether the new variant is really going to be capable of moving a greater distance, and that doesn't kind of fit with my biological understanding, because the distance relates to the force of the cough or the sneeze or the respiratory droplet that flies out of you.
"Unless we were saying that the variant makes you cough in a different way or cough more violently, I can't see how you can gain that extra distance, like in the long jump as it were."
He added that the viral load of the new variant is probably higher than the last strain, explaining why it is more infectious.
Prof Van-Tam said: "If you imagine a cloud of viruses around an infected person it's not that they are, kind of, way out here – it's the fact that within the cloud they are much more concentrated and if you breach those safety distances, the chances of you picking it up are higher, which is why its growth rate and its transmissibility is greater."
He also said coronavirus was unlikely to be eradicated and regular vaccinations may be needed.
"We know that the vaccines make what we call a polyclonal response. They make lots of different antibodies to different types, basically," he said.
"Therefore, the idea that a mutation of the virus would in one go out with the whole of the vaccine is pretty low.
"So if we were to see an effect, it would be a small degradation rather than going off a cliff."
Asked whether, in time, an annual jab would be required against a different strain, as happens with flu, Prof Van-Tam said: "I can't say it will be every year yet but I can say that I don't think we will ever eradicate coronavirus."
Giving his best estimate on how long the current vaccine would be effective against mutations, he said "how long is a piece of string" but "I would say it's going to be many months that the vaccine is going to work for, but I'm not basing that on data, I'm basing it on a hunch".
Prof Van-Tam has also warned that Brits are facing a "very dangerous time" as the "perimeter fence" to stop Covid is only part built.
He said coronavirus restrictions cannot be relaxed until we have a "substantially vaccinated population".
It comes as the UK's Covid vaccination roll out is being rapidly scaled up – with seven new mass hubs opened and GPs and pharmacies offering jabs.
But at the same time, hospitals are being overwhelmed with Covid patients as admissions soared past the peak during the first wave in March last year.
Prof Van-Tam told LBC Radio today: "We are in a very dangerous place now."
Giving one of his now renowned colourful analogies, which help make the science easier to understand, he suggested that Britain's protective shield against Covid is still under construction.
"We’ve talked a lot about vaccines, but you know, this is like saying i’m building a big perimeter fence around my property so the baddies can’t get in," he said.
"But you can’t celebrate that when you’ve put three posts in and two sections of fencing because people just go round the fence – you have got to build the whole fence.
"We cannot relax until we have a substantially vaccinated population.
"Until then we are in a dangerous place – look at the NHS, we are in a dangerous place now.
"Every close human contact that is avoidable should be avoided because one in three of us will get the infection and have no symptoms at all."
Prof Van-Tam made the comments after being asked whether footballers should avoid hugging and kissing to celebrate goals.
Suggesting it was time to issue "no kissing" advice, he told LBC Radio: "I completely agree with you."
NO PLANS TO TIGHTEN RULES
Meanwhile, the Health Secretary said lockdown restrictions in England will remain in place for as "long as they are necessary".
Matt Hancock also suggested there are no current plans to tighten existing rules.
He urged people not to "take the mickey" out of the restrictions, but said it was "impossible to know" when they could be eased.
"We will keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than they are necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they are necessary," he told Sky News.
"These measures that we have got in place that we hope to be able to lift – and we should be able to lift, when we have been able to protect through vaccination those who are vulnerable – right now, the vaccination is not in a position to do that."
With rolling out the vaccines key to easing lockdowns, the latest Government figures showed 2,431,648 in the UK have received a first dose.
As of Tuesday, a further 1,243 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, with a further 45,533 cases being confirmed by labs.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is considering further Covid-19 restrictions as the death toll from the virus passed 5,000.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will outline any changes to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
In Northern Ireland, chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride has said the current lockdown is likely to last beyond February 6.
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