As published in the Telegraph:
A leading Covid scientist has floated the idea that people may simply get the “sniffles” when they catch the virus in the future.
It came as Tory MPs called for ministers to make a promise of no more lockdowns when they reopen the country.
Prof Andrew Pollard, the head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said the “jury is out” about whether new Covid vaccines will be needed to combat mutant strains but expressed hope those already developed can stop severe cases.
“If people have just got the sniffles then I think our job is done,” Prof Pollard told MPs on Tuesday as he looked ahead to the coming years during an event hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus.
With scientists increasingly talking about an annual Covid jab and warning that the virus will not disappear entirely, MPs are considering how to balance the long-term needs of protecting people and rebuilding the economy.
Conservative backbenchers eager to see restrictions loosened as soon as is realistically possible have told The Telegraph they want Government ministers to make assurances that nationwide lockdowns will not be repeated.
The idea is that to kickstart the economic recovery – getting businesses to reopen and triggering a spending boom – company bosses and workers have to be reassured that the lifting of the rules will not be reversed weeks later.
David Davis, the Tory MP and former Brexit secretary, said he did not want the reopening to be rushed by the Government but added once it was deemed safe to do so it was important there was not a speedy reversal.
He told The Telegraph: “If I was running a cafe or a taxi firm or a small company and the Government said ‘we’re going to relax lockdown’, would I go back to work? I don’t know if I would. But if they said ‘we’re relaxing lockdown and we’re not bringing it back’, I think I would.”
Mr Davis said such an assurance should only be made once those most at risk of dying from Covid have been vaccinated and not until the summer, given that indications from last year were that the warm weather limited spread.
Mr Davis said he had been making the arguments to the Department of Health as ministers prepare to spend the coming weeks working out how and when to ease restrictions.
Mark Harper, the former Tory chief whip who now heads the Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs concerned about the negative impacts of the lockdown, favours a similar idea.
Mr Harper said he wanted the easing of lockdown restrictions to begin once all over-70s and frontline healthcare workers are vaccinated, which is estimated to be early March. He hopes something close to full reopening can be completed by May.
After that, with age groups most at risk of dying if they catch the virus overwhelmingly vaccinated, ministers should consider reassurances that future lockdowns will not happen, he argued.
“The Government basically has to say: ‘We’re not going to stop this by having lockdowns, we have other tools,'” Mr Harper said.
Both Mr Davis and Mr Harper accepted that a “no more lockdowns” promise could never be 100 per cent binding, with the future course of the virus unknown. But they stressed it is essential that reassurances are provided to both employees and employers over the possibility of another national lockdown if the economy is to recover quickly.
In a separate appearance, Prof Pollard told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: “The really important point though is that all vaccines, everywhere in the world where they’ve been tested, are still preventing severe disease and death.
“And I think that is perhaps the clue to the future here, that we are going to see new variants arise and they will spread in the population, like most of the viruses that cause colds every winter. But as long as we have enough immunity to prevent severe disease, hospitalisations and death, then we’re going to be fine in the future in the pandemic.”
Public Health England’s vaccine data, which is due to be published this month, is expected to show that the Pfizer jab provides two thirds of protection against the virus after just one dose.
And early data suggests hospital cases among immunised older Britons have started falling to a “fraction of previous levels, according to The Sun.