“Covid is not going to go away,” Whitty said in a Royal Society of Medicine webinar on Thursday. “This is now a disease that for the rest of our careers is going to be around. So, it is clear that we are going to have to manage it, at some point, rather like we manage the flu.”
Whitty, who has been nicknamed ‘Dr. Doom’ for his overly gloomy Covid-19 projections, noted that up to 25,000 people in the UK die from the flu each year without making headlines, because society has struck a balance between an acceptable level of risk and restrictions people are ready to tolerate. Similarly with Covid-19, and its many future variants that will inevitably emerge, the government aims to push deaths as low as possible, but lockdowns will likely end after current restrictions are lifted in June, he acknowledged.
“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,” Whitty said.
Britons might wonder where such holistic, pragmatic thinking was earlier, as they have been subjected to some of the world's tightest pandemic measures – to the point they're given a timeline for when they might expect to be allowed to hug family members.
It's not clear how effective those measures have been, either. The UK has suffered one of the world's highest Covid-19 death rates per capita. In fact, its cumulative death rate briefly rose to the highest globally in January. But case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths have all plunged since then. Deaths have been below 100 a day for 18 straight days after peaking above 1,300 in January.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he aims for the UK's Covid-19 restrictions to end for good on June 21. Understanding that debilitating restrictions can't persist “indefinitely,” he said, the road map for recovery must be “cautious but also irreversible.”