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Britain is in a race to beat Covid and must not fall at the final hurdle, like horses do in the Grand National, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has warned.
Professor Van-Tam said the nation is facing a "very difficult couple of months" and said the county must “not relax” its measures when the end is in sight.
He told The Sun it is likely lockdown and social distancing rules will be in place until "mid to late Spring" and likened the months in between to the Grand National.
The top medic also predicted some measures may become the new normal, and said Brits may choose to wear face masks or use antibacterial hand gel for the foreseeable future.
The deputy chief medical officer said: "We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it."
When asked about when restrictions may ease, Mr Van Tam said: "That is not until, my guess, the mid to late Spring. And people have got to be patient with that."
He also said the problem right now is "disease activity is really high" and claimed the vaccine has meant people think they "can relax a bit now".
Prof Van Tam said: "That’s the problem right now – disease activity is really high. But people are starting to think, oh well the vaccine is coming along I can relax a bit now.
"No, no no no. The vaccine effects are going to take three months until we see them properly, and until then no one can relax.
"We are probably in the last few furlongs of this race – like in the Grand National. We just have a couple more fences, we have just got to stick with it."
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The professor also said he doesn't think Covid will ever be wiped out altogether, and said it will "continue to change over time" into more mutant strains.
He said: "I don’t think we are ever going to take this virus away out of humankind.
"I think the virus is going to continue to change over time, as the disease has already shown signs of doing."
As recently as January 13, Boris Johnson said the UK is “taking steps” to keep out a third Covid variant discovered in Brazil.
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