Covid-19 could be with us for next two to four years, one of China's leading experts warns

It’s not what we want to hear as the lockdown lifts in the UK, the pubs re-open and the kids go back to school but one of China’s leading experts on Covid-19 has told ITV News that the virus is likely to be with us for at least the next two to four years.

In his first foreign television interview Dr Zhang Wenhong, the Director of Infectious Diseases at Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, predicts we will be living with this for some time to come and he believes there is a high chance of a second international outbreak this autumn or winter.

His forecasts are based on his knowledge of the virus as one of the first to face it and the current situation in the rest of the world, not in China where this week, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, there were no local infections.

Dr Zhang points to the fact that the United States and India are still struggling to contain their first wave of the virus, and other parts of South America and Africa are only just at the beginning of their battle.

He believes a vaccine is the only way to beat this virus and the only solution for those countries like America, where they have not enforced as strict a lockdown as he did in Shanghai.

The doctor has been hailed a hero and given the nickname Father Zhang for preventing the pandemic from taking hold in Shanghai.

He received his first Covid-19 patient on January 12, and a week later he instigated the complete lockdown of China's largest city.

People were told to stay in their homes and only go out in cases of emergency.

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Provisions were made to ensure food and other necessary supplies were delivered to their homes.

Communities complied and it worked.

Within four weeks the spread had been contained and Shanghai was able to start opening up again.

Needless to say, he thinks such severe quarantines should be enforced elsewhere in the world.

I was warned not to raise the question about China's delayed response in the early days of the outbreak.

But of course I put it to Dr Zhang that had the Chinese Government issued their warnings sooner, and shut down Wuhan sooner, then the virus might not have spread beyond its borders and become the pandemic which has, and continues to, wreak such tragic consequences today.

He admitted that before confirming human to human transmission the government and doctors, himself included, were aware of human to human infections but they had only just sequenced the virus by mid-January.

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More and more people were becoming infected, giving them more information about the virus and then on January 20 human to human transmission was confirmed.

He insists that is not a long time, not when dealing with a virus they had never seen before and only just sequenced.

He also rejects claims that China tried to hide the outbreak – how can you hide such an infectious disease he asked me in response, it is impossible, and it would be unimaginable in China, he said.

Dr Zhang told me he could not begin to contemplate if they had tried to hide it and allowed the pandemic to spread uncontrollably across China.

Despite being able to send tens of thousands of medical staff to Wuhan, there was no way the world’s most populated nation would have the medical resources to deal with a pandemic on the scale being seen in the US or India.

The lack of such resources was behind the UK government's reason to advise all Britons in China to get out of the country at the start of February.

Credit: ITV News

Dr Zhang is involved in some of the many vaccine research projects underway in China.

He believes it will be several months before they can determine the efficacy of the products under trial so far, there are still too many unknowns regarding the length of immunity.

He suggests any eventual vaccine might require annual administration. It’s too soon to tell.

China is desperate to find a cure for Covid-19, for political as well as global health reasons.

But despite Dr Zhang's remarks and even if China is first in that race for a vaccine, the questions surrounding the country’s handling of the outbreak in those crucial early weeks, will not go away.