People should not relax about Covid-19 despite the good news about potential vaccines, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has warned.
In recent weeks three vaccines have been ruled effective at immunising people against coronavirus, but there could still be a wait until it is rolled out to the general public.
The most vulnerable may start to be given a vaccine in December but with lockdown restrictions set to be slackened over Christmas there are fears many more will catch the virus before the nation is vaccinated.
"There is going to be a sad irony if some people catch Covid-19 through not following the rules, that would have been eligible for a vaccine in January or February," Prof. Van-Tam said.
“I encourage the public to think seriously about that and be very careful and take this seriously until we are in that different place, which I hope for, but we are not there yet."
Boris Johnson is expected to announce that three families will be able to mix over Christmas but Prof. Van Tam fears some will take liberties, which could cost lives.
“I am certainly concerned that people should not tear the pants out of it and they should follow whatever rules are announced in due course by the government."
With the UK on the cusp of receiving its first set of vaccinations, people will be hoping normality will return soon but the coronavirus will remain part of life for a long time to come.
Prof. Van-Tam said: “It isn’t the case, I am afraid, that we should read the euphoria of people like me, scientists and be seduced into thinking that they think this is something that will be over and done with by mid-January. Absolutely not.
"We are doing those non-pharmaceutical interventions, social distancing measures for quite a few months more yet."
The nation was buoyed on Monday by the "terrific news" that the Oxford University vaccine was up to 90% effective and moves everything a step closer to defeating the virus.“This is very good news, at a strategic level, because it is the third goal in the back of the net in my penalty shootout; it is the third vaccine with a positive read out," he said.
"It really does make it highly likely that in the months that follow that we will have in Covid a vaccine-preventable decision."