After a month of having peak cases, Covid-19 cases and deaths are on the decline in the UK. Less than a month ago, the UK was seeing 40,000 to 50,000 new cases every day. Experts and government officials were concerned about how this would affect the NHS.
Though cases are now falling, Professor Tim Spector, the lead scientist of the Zoe Symptoms study and co-founder of an app that tracks the spread of the virus, thinks we’ll continue to live with Covid for a while.
In fact, Professor Spector believes that people shouldn’t only be worried about this coming Christmas, but Christmases for the next five years.
Speaking online at the Royal Society of Medicine’s Covid-19 series, Prof. Spector said experts now have a better picture of coronavirus than they did this time last year.
When asked if enough was being done to ensure people could celebrate Christmas safely and avoid lockdowns this year, he said: “We’re not doing enough, we are too complacent,” adding that Covid will be impacting “Christmases for the next five years”.
With 7% of beds occupied by people with Covid during the busier colder months, Prof. Spector raised concerns about the NHS, saying the health system is in a “perilous” position.
Data from NHS England – analysed by the King’s Fund think tank – also suggested the NHS is “on its knees”, with “chronic workforce shortages” putting pressure on the healthcare system.
“We have to realise we just have to in some way control [Covid] into something that doesn’t cause as much loss of life, doesn’t cause morbidities, and reduce that,” Prof. Spector said.
“And to do that is a combination of the vaccines, the medicines, etc. But also we have to keep some public health measures in place to keep those numbers down – we’re not doing that.”
We know the pandemic is not over, but not everyone agrees it’ll still be impacting Christmas in 2026.
Professor Paul Hunter, who is an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, thinks it’s too early for anyone to say if Covid will be impacting Christmas in five years’ time, as it depends on so many factors. But he does say that Prof. Spector is correct, when he says that vaccines will not be enough to control the pandemic on its own.
“What was probably the last big Coronavirus pandemic was in 1890, 130 years ago, and that really lasted four to five years in total,” Prof. Hunter tells HuffPost UK. “That virus (betacoronavirus OC43) is still around, but is just another cause of the common cold. But this time round with Covid, we have had vaccines and we did social distancing, so that time scale could be extended.”
In September, Prof. Hunter penned an article explaining that while vaccines may limit severe disease short term, they won’t necessarily end the virus, immunity to infection starts to wane. Because of this, “herd immunity is unachievable”.
“The evidence is that natural infection is better than vaccine at doing this [reaching heard immunity] in the long term, so how long this pandemic will cause us problems will largely be decided by how many infections we have in coming years the more infections in the next year or so, the sooner we will have to stop worrying,” Prof. Hunter explains.
“But of course more infections now translates into greater disease and greater pressure on health services now, unless we get good roll out of booster vaccine. So it is not an easy balance to strike.”
Both scientist’s comments have one thing in common: they centre the idea that Covid is becoming endemic. If Covid-19 becomes endemic in the UK, like the flu – it means we’ll be likely to see recurring outbreaks, but hopefully at lower levels.
However, we all know the severity of flu strains can vary from year to year, so only time will tell how big an impact Covid will be having on us in Christmas 2026.