Health

When will Covid end? How much longer the pandemic could last and if there could be another lockdown in the UK

Coronavirus restrictions have eased around the UK in recent months, with the Government following its “Living with Covid” plan.

Although the home nations have lifted measures at a different pace, rules around self-isolation and face masks have gradually been scrapped.

Access to free lateral flow and PCR tests is now being drastically scaled back, which marks a significant milestone in the route out of the pandemic.

However, experts have been quick to warn that Covid isn’t over – here’s what we know about how the future of the pandemic looks.

When will the Covid pandemic end?

A report from the World Health Organisation published at the end of March suggested the pandemic could end this year.

It said that it wold take a global effort with countries working together to reduce transmission and stepping up efforts to get jabs to unvaccinated populations.

However, the report warned that there is also a scenario under which the pandemic could be “reset”.

This could be caused either by the virus emerging as a new strain from an animal reservoir of SARS-CoV-2, or by one of the so-called “recombinant” or hybrid variants taking off. One of these could lead to “an essentially new SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the research advises.

Covid restrictions have eased around the UK in recent weeks (Photo: PA)

It sets out three scenarios – best, base, and worst – for how the Covid-19 pandemic could play out in 2022.

In the best case, future variants would be significantly less severe than previous ones, and immunity from previous infection and vaccination remains high.

The base or central case predicts that new variants are less severe but there would be periodic spikes, with booster shots needed for vulnerable populations.

The worst case suggests a “more virulent and highly transmissible variant emerges against which vaccines are less effective, and/or immunity against severe disease and death wanes rapidly, especially in the most vulnerable groups.

This forecast came after Professor Sir Chris Whitty warned that new coronavirus variant that does more damage than Omicron is likely to hit the UK.

Speaking on the second anniversary of the first national lockdown, the UK’s chief medical adviser said that the public should “roll with it” and accept that more surprises will come rather than hoping for an “end point”.

When asked how quickly the pandemic will end and become endemic, Sir Chris said: “The term ‘endemic’ is massively misused, including by people who have got medical qualifications.

“The pandemic is going to become, over time, less dominant steadily, but we’re going to have a significant problem with it in multiple parts of the world for the rest of our lives. Let’s have no illusions about that.

“I’m expecting it to be probably in the UK seasonal, but interspersed, at least for the next 2-3 years by new variants while it’s still evolving essentially to adapt to humans, which may occur in between seasonal peaks.

“So I think we should just accept that that is what we’re going to deal with and just roll with it, rather than expect some end point.”

More on Covid-19

Will there be another lockdown?

There was a significant increase in Covid cases around the UK in March, following the easing of most of the remaining restrictions.

However, the Government has been very clear about shifting from a system of restrictions to one that places increased onus on personal responsibility, so a return to stringent measures is highly unlikely.

England is now operating under the Living with Covid plan, which mentions nothing about another lockdown.

A return of restrictions has not been completely ruled out, but the plan states that testing and vaccinations are considered the first line of defence.

“The Government remains ready to respond if a new variant emerges and places unsustainable pressure on the NHS, through surveillance systems and contingency measures such as increased testing capacity or vaccine programmes,” it says.

A woman wears a face mask in Cardiff, ahead of the easing of restrictions in Wales (Photo: Getty Images)

Boris Johnson said when confirming the end of all restrictions in England in February month: “We have a very clear view of this that this has not gone away. We’re able to make these changes now because of the vaccines and the high level of immunity.

“We have to face the fact that there could be likely will be another variant that will cause us trouble.

“But I believe that thanks to a lot of the stuff that we’ve done, particularly investment in vaccines and vaccine technology and therapeutics, that we will be in a far better position to tackle that new variant when it comes.”

Wales continued with its plan to ease its remaining measures on Monday 28 March, with face masks in shops and self-isolation requirements being scrapped.

Scotland, however, postponed the final stages of its roadmap out of Covid restrictions due to the surge in infections, with face mask rules remaining in place into April.

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