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Chris Whitty says 25k Covid deaths a year would be tolerable – UK to treat virus like flu


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The Chief Medical Officer for England warned the deadly virus is “not going to go away” and said more than 20,000 people could die in a bad flu year. He suggested accepting a similar figure in relation to Covid deaths would allow people to live a “whole life”.

Speaking on a Royal School of Medicine webinar, Professor Whitty said: “Covid is not going to go away.

“You’ve got to work out what’s a rational policy to this and here I would differentiate quite a lot between a pandemic environment and what you get with seasonal flu.

“Every year, somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 citizens die of flu, most of them very elderly, and every few years you get a bad flu year where 20,000 to 25,000 die of it.

“The last time we had that was three years ago and no one noticed it.

Professor Chris Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty (Image: Getty)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Image: Getty)

“So it is clear we are going to have to manage it, at some point, rather like we manage the flu.

“Here is a seasonal, very dangerous disease that kills thousands of people and society has chosen a particular way around it.”

Professor Whitty said while it was essential to bring Covid deaths to as low as possible, he warned the public would not tolerate another lockdown.

He continued: “We want to get as close as we can [to zero] but the question is how do you balance that against other priorities?

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Coronavirus vaccines

Coronavirus vaccines (Image: Express)

“What are people prepared to put up with?

“What we’ve demonstrated in the last year is we don’t have to have flu at all if we don’t want to because the things we’ve done against Covid have led to virtually no influenza.

“If next year we say, ‘We can deal with flu, everyone lockdown over the winter’ I think the medical profession would not make itself popular with the general public.

“We need to work out some balance which actually keeps it at a low level, minimises deaths as best we can, but in a way that the population tolerates, through medical countermeasures like vaccines and in due course drugs, which mean you can minimise mortality while not maximising the economic and social impacts on our fellow citizens.”

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Coronavirus cases around the UK

Coronavirus cases around the UK (Image: Express)

Professor Whitty went on to say how he does not believe there will be any more lockdowns across England, even local ones.

But he added: “Society will not tolerate more than a certain number of people being ill, even if they know it’s going to go away come the spring, and the area where we’re going to have to pull the alarm cord is if a variant of concern comes in that we can see is now back to a situation of unconstrained growth because the immunological response to it is just not there.”

Latest figures from the King’s College ZOE symptom tracker app suggested the ‘R’ number could be around one or above in other areas in the country.

Professor Whitty went on to say how it was impossible to prevent variants coming into the UK as Europe entered into its third wave of the pandemic.

Chris Whitty revealed there are no plans for more lockdown

Chris Whitty revealed there are no plans for more lockdown (Image: PA)

He continued: “We have to accept the idea that stopping variants coming to the UK is not a realistic starting point, but you can slow it down.

“Anyone who believes you can put up some border policy that stops it is misunderstanding the problem completely.

“While the ‘R’ is less than one, which it has been for two or three months, then new variants don’t have much of a foothold.

“Once we start to open things up, then if a variant comes in it has the opportunity to spread and the more cases you import the quicker the starting point.

“What we’re trying to do is slow it down.”


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