Prof Heymann said high levels of protection mean it is increasingly becoming a disease Brits can live with (Picture: Rex/PAwire/Getty)
The UK is the closest of any country in the northern hemisphere to be ‘exiting the Covid pandemic’, an expert has said.
Professor David Heymann, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said that Britain’s very high levels of immunity seem to be ‘keeping the virus at bay’.
He said the disease was now functioning ‘more like an epidemic’ as he predicted it would soon settle down to normal patterns of spread seen with other infections.
He told a Chatham House event: ‘In general, now, the countries that we know best in the northern hemisphere have varying stages of the pandemic.
‘And probably, in the UK, it’s the closest to any country of being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic as the other four coronaviruses (which cause common colds).’
He said around 95% of people in England have antibodies from vaccines or prior infections.
Around 95% of Brits now have antibodies to protect them from falling seriously ill with Covid (Picture: Getty)
He said: ‘That means immunity against serious illness and death after infection if one is vaccinated, or after re-infection if one has had illness before, and that population immunity seems to be keeping the virus and its variants at bay, not causing serious illness or death in countries where population immunity is high.
‘I looked at the ONS (Office for National Statistics) most recent report on population immunity and they estimated about 95% of the population in England and a little less than in other parts of the United Kingdom do have antibody to infection either from vaccination or from natural infection.
‘And that antibody, as I said, is keeping the virus at bay. And it’s now functioning more like an endemic coronavirus than one that is a pandemic.’
Prof Heymann said many people who were getting seriously ill had not had previous infection and had not gained immunity from a vaccine.
‘If you look in the intensive care units, you’ll see that unfortunately the majority of those people are not vaccinated,’ he said.
He said the UK is probably one of the countries with the highest levels of population immunity.
He added: ‘So some are already saying that it is endemic in the United Kingdom, that the United Kingdom has succeeded in transferring risk assessment from the Government, which was assessing the risk… and passing down to people who are doing their own risk assessments either by doing self-testing when they go visit elderly people or some other means of trying to prevent transmission to others.’
However, he cautioned that it was a long way off before the Covid pandemic is over globally.
Prof Heymann said the UK may be one of the first countries to exit the pandemic (Picture: Reuters)
Prof Heymann said that would not be declared ‘until all countries have completed what they need to do to make this virus more tame and to become endemic’.
The leading expert said there would be resurgences of Covid in the future and more variants will arise, though it was not clear of what severity.
‘We’re fortunate in that we have vaccines which can be modified very rapidly, and put into production very rapidly to deal with an escapee.’
Government ministers have expressed hope that the UK can be among the first countries worldwide to ‘transition’ from coronavirus being a pandemic to endemic.
A strategy on living with Covid is expected to be published within weeks, with lockdowns and mass testing likely to be scrapped.
But some scientists have cast doubt on the optimism, saying a virus ‘isn’t endemic just because a government minister says it is’.
Daily virus cases have been falling, with 120,821 registered yesterday.
But there were 379 deaths — the highest daily figure since last February.
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