The end of lockdown, masks outdoors, and the UK’s COVID mistakes: Patrick Vallance answers your questions

 The end of lockdown, masks outdoors, and the UK’s COVID mistakes: Patrick Vallance answers your questions

In a rare opportunity for the public to put their questions directly to a top government scientist, Sir Patrick Vallance appeared on Sky News to talk lockdown, vaccines and how soon we can return to a more normal life. 

The chief scientific adviser, a regular at Downing Street’s coronavirus news briefings over the past nine months, also answered concerns regarding face masks, care homes and more.

Here’s a catch-up if you missed it.

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Patrick Vallance

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Sir Patrick Vallance has answered your questions

If you could go back to March 2020, what measures would you recommend to government knowing then what you know now?

Sir Patrick said there is definitely an advantage in hindsight, and we now know a lot more about the virus than we did at the start of the pandemic.

But, after the government has repeatedly been accused of being too slow to impose restrictions, he admitted that “waiting and watching simply doesn’t work”.

“The lesson is go earlier than you think you want to, go harder than you think you want to, and go a bit broader than you think you want to in terms of applying the restrictions,” he said.

Intriguingly, he finished by quoting Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly “and expecting different results”.

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Need restrictions ‘earlier, harder, broader’

Will the government keep the lockdown for longer if coronavirus cases and deaths do not come down? And if so, how long will it last?

While the vaccine rollout remains promising, Sir Patrick said it will not be able to do the “heavy lifting” yet in terms of bringing down cases – and at the moment, infections are still “nowhere near where they need to be”.

Refusing to put a date on when lockdown could be lifted, the chief scientific adviser made clear it is too early to be talking about relaxing restrictions.

He also suggested it would be more of a “slow release” of lockdown, rather than a “big bang” which would see lots of restrictions lifted at once.

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‘Vaccines won’t do the heavy lifting’

In a similar vein, Sir Patrick was asked how many people would need vaccinating before we can remove some restrictions

The vaccines work to protect people from severe illness and reduce their chances of dying – but we do not yet know how well they can reduce transmission of the virus, Sir Patrick said.

He pointed out that only one in eight people in the UK have had the virus, so there are still many people who do not have protective antibodies.

But he did give a rough figure for how many people need to be vaccinated for collective immunity: 70%.

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Vaccine ‘won’t necessarily’ stop infections

Will we have periods every year where we need to go into lockdown again because people have not received their yearly top-up of the vaccine?

It is “quite likely” we will need to be vaccinated regularly – annually or bi-annually – for “at least a few years”, Sir Patrick said.

We will also likely need to adjust the vaccine each year, as we currently do with flu vaccinations, but this will be planned ahead.

The good news is that he expects we will be in a much better position by this winter as the vaccine will be rolled out across la

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Redak staff

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