Professor warns wave of new infections after Christmas Covid rules relaxation could hamper vaccination roll-out

Behaviour during the festive period will have a “big impact” on how long it takes for life to return to normal, the lead researcher behind the Oxford vaccine has warned.

08-12-2020. Picture Michael Gillen. Relaxation of Covid restrictions during the Christmas week could hinder the rollout of the vaccine and bring a third wave of infections to England
08-12-2020. Picture Michael Gillen. Relaxation of Covid restrictions during the Christmas week could hinder the rollout of the vaccine and bring a third wave of infections to England

Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said that travelling and mixing with others over Christmas could hinder the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the new year.

It comes after NHS bosses warned Boris Johnson that any relaxation of restrictions in England’s tier system may trigger a third wave of the pandemic at the busiest time of the year for hospitals.

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Prof Gilbert said life could be “more or less” back to normal by next summer – but that depends on transmission rates in January.

Restrictions are due to be relaxed across the UK between December 23 and 27 to allow families to form “Christmas bubbles” and spend time together over the festive period.

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“What we’ve seen in the US is that after Thanksgiving, when people were travelling and mixing, there’s now been a big surge in infections and they’re seeing 3,000 deaths a day now – the highest rate there’s ever been in any country,” Prof Gilbert said.

“If we have that kind of thing happening over the Christmas holidays in this country, with very high transmission rates then possible in January, it’s going to take so much longer to get things back to normal.

“Because partly, all the vaccination clinics will be disrupted. It’s not possible to run vaccination clinics when staff are off sick, and there’s a very high transmission rate affecting people’s ability to come to be vaccinated.

“So I think what we do over the next few weeks is really going to have a big impact on how long it’s going to take to get back to the normal.”

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The first review of England’s tier allocation will take place on Wednesday, two weeks after the three-tier system was brought in following the end of lockdown.

But areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions “as soon as this is needed, without any delay”, according to the letter from NHS Providers, which represents England’s hospital trusts

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