A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the possibility that stringent social distancing measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 could remain in place until next year.
Asked about the prospect of some lockdown measures lasting into 2021 during a press briefing on Thursday, the prime minister’s spokesman would only say that the government would do “everything we can” to keep the infection rate down.
Downing Street also refused to roll back on remarks made by England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, during the daily COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, in which he revealed that the country will most likely need “very socially disruptive measures” into next year.
Whitty also gave a stark warning to the British public, saying they needed to be “realistic” about society returning “back to normal,” claiming that could only happen with the availability of a vaccine or an effective treatment.
Johnson’s administration is grappling with the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of relaxing lockdown measures, which are currently in place until at least May 7. The prospect of social distancing measures still being enforced by the turn of the year would be a massive blow, particularly to the hospitality, entertainment and leisure sectors.
The PM’s spokesman on Thursday stressed that it was too early to discuss lifting the lockdown, but insisted that “the key to this is not having a second peak.”
Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has started laying out plans to restore “some semblance of normality” by easing some of the coronavirus-related restrictions, but warned that it’s too soon for any dramatic changes.
Downing Street’s comments come as more than 500 brave volunteers received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday as part of UK clinical trials. The vaccine has been developed by teams at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group.
UK COVID-19 figures published by the Department of Health and Social Care on Thursday recorded 138,078 cases of the disease – resulting in 18,738 deaths – 616 in the last 24-hour period.