Experts believe coronavirus is becoming an “endemic” disease, a leading epidemiologist has said.
The Kent variant of the virus has become the dominant strain in the UK, with the deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam saying on Monday it is unlikely the South African variant will become more common.
Professor David Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, was asked on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if people were going to have to “learn to live with” coronavirus circulating.
He replied: “It certainly seems like that in the shorter term, and probably in the long term as well.
“Most experts believe that this disease is now becoming endemic, but the good thing is that we have many tools including vaccines with which we can deal with this virus.”
Drawing a comparison with the spread of HIV/Aids, he added: “We’ve learned to live with it, as we’ll learn to live with this infection as well.”
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Professor Herman added borders “cannot stop infectious diseases”.
He said: “We know that borders cannot stop infectious diseases no matter how rigid your controls are, there will always be some that comes through.”
He said most nations believe the best strategy is to deal with infections in-country, and to ensure there is a flow of travel and trade.
Asked if he believed closing borders would have an immediate impact, Prof Heymann said: “We’ve seen that countries that have closed their borders, such as New Zealand, have kept the virus out, but now their problem is what do they when they begin to open their borders?
“So I think the best way forward is to live understanding that viruses and bacteria, any infection, can cross borders and we have to have the defences in our own countries to deal with them.”
Later on Tuesday the UK is expected to announce that all arrivals to the UK will need two coronavirus tests before being allowed into the community, one on day two and another on day eight.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the policy will mean it is easier to "keep track of where people are and for them to report for testing".
It also makes it "easier for us to track the presence of any new variants coming in", he added.
A key way to tackle the spread of any new variants will be vaccines, even if they must be adapted to better suit mutations.
George Eustice on new quarantine rules for arrivals to the UK:
Professor Adam Finn, an academic from the University of Bristol’s School of Clinical Sciences, said that it could take months for new vaccines to be created.
The member of the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisations told BBC Breakfast: “It will take some time, simply because although the new variants can be adjusted in the vaccines they then have to come through the regulators, and then have to be manufactured at scale in order to be available.
“So it’s not a matter of a month or two, it’s probably more than that.
“But we currently have vaccines that are effective against the strains that are predominating in the UK and that should be clear in everybody’s minds that we’re not in a position where vaccines have suddenly stopped working entirely.”