Covid cases are down but how will we live with the virus long term?

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More than two years have passed since Covid plunged the UK into its first nationwide lockdown.

To date there have been 22.2 millon cases of the coronavirus across the country and around 176,000 deaths.

But it now looks as though we could be past the worst of the pandemic with cases, hospitalisations and deaths all trending downwards for the last two months.

While the decline confirmed infections may well have been impacted by the ending of free testing, the picture is of a country that is less fearful of a virus that had a devastating effect on the world.

However, like many illnesses the virus will likely remain a feature of everyday life for years to come.

So how will we live with Covid?

Vaccines

The NHS has administered 142,173,629 Covid vaccinations so far, according to the latest available data, and the shots will continue to play a big role in protecting people against the virus.

Vaccines do not offer full protection against Covid.

Covid can still kill but the injections and other treatments mean the risks are much lower than they were at the start of the pandemic.

Vaccines have helped make the Coronavirus more manageable

(PA)

Boris Johnson’s government has said it plans to treat Covid like the flu and people are being urged to stay at home if they get the virus or show any symptoms.

He said that some surveillance of the coronavirus would remain in place, allowing for a rapid response to new variants, which could be quickly scaled up.

He also cited the much-weakened link between Covid cases and deaths due to vaccines, antivirals and the lower severity of the Omicron variant as informing his decision.

The end of restrictions

The prime minister in February this year scrapped all Covid laws in England, as part of the government’s plan to live with the virus.

Mr Johnson ended mandatory self-isolation for people who tested positive for the virus and people must now pay for their own tests.

The government currently has no plans to re-introduce restrictions, although some people have continued to take measures to protect themselves, such as wearing face masks in crowded places.

Covid is still putting pressure on the NHS

(PA)

What about variants?

New Covid variants will remain a risk, particularly as people begin to travel more widely abroad over the summer months.

Experts say that, over time, viruses evolve and become milder over time, with the Spanish flue in 1918 cited as an example.

There is no guarantee, however, that this will be the case.

This graph shows the sharp decline in people self isolating after rules were relaxed

(PA Graphics)

Omicron

There are two subvariants of Omicron – BA.4 and BA.5 – are thought to have contributed to a new wave of Covid in South Africa.

It is unclear at this point whether they spread more quickly than their predecessors, BA.3, BA.2 and BA.1.

Professor Peter Openshaw, of Imperial College London, said experts continue to assess the potential dangers associated with subvariants.

“Everyone is thinking of sub-variants,” he said. “We just don’t know whether they will cause a surge in infections and where they will go in the UK.”

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