It’s been a year since the coronavirus pandemic made its way to the UK, now the country and the world are experiencing a surge of new strains, some of which have been particularly concerning.
Now, one UK professor has warned that coronavirus mutations could keep us in waves of lockdowns for years to come.
Could lockdowns be the new normal?
Nobody enjoys a lockdown, however, they are one of the most important steps we can take towards fighting off coronavirus. Now, with COVID mutations popping up all over the world Professor Sir Ian Boyd, an expert in infectious diseases from the University of St Andrews and SAGE member, believes that lockdowns may be a pattern of life for the next few years. He stated:
My suspicion is that we will experience a damped oscillation of control-release for a long time to come - perhaps several years.
However, all is not lost, Professor Boyd also believes that stronger, harsher lockdowns now could lead to less of a need for them in the future.
Boyd, along with other SAGE colleagues have also warned against reopening schools too soon amidst new COVID mutations popping up in the UK as it would give these new variants the opportunity to spread and mutate even further. He told The Times:
It stands to reason that the more people there are in the population with infections - the prevalence - the more virus that is replicating and the more chance there is of even highly improbable mutations happening.
Lockdown could be longer than we think
Initially, the current lockdown was supposed to be reviewed when the majority of elderly and vulnerable residents receive their vaccines. However, due to concerns and the spreading of new mutations through the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock believe that extending the current lockdown can’t be ruled out.
Imperial College London Professor Robin Shattock, an expert on advanced vaccine development, also agrees that an extended lockdown now could help the new mutations from spreading later on:
It would be very advisable to try to push the cases as low as possible to reduce the chance of additional variants. This would make sense alongside border restrictions.
Last week cases of the South African coronavirus variant were discovered in the UK alongside the new Kent mutation, a further mutated version of the UK variant which mimics the SA strain. The E484K mutation evident in these strains has researchers concerned as it may render some vaccines less effective.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has already been halted in South Africa as it proved to provide ‘minimal protection’ against mild to moderate cases of the SA variant. However, the vaccine may still be able to help prevent severe cases of COVID. Oxford/AstraZeneca have now revealed that they are working on an updated vaccine which could target the E484K mutation, to be available later in the year.