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Empty King's Cross during London lockdown
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Social distancing could last in London until the end of 2020

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Our brave new world of two-metre-apart interactions, Zoom pub trips and live-streamed culture might become more permanent than we ever imagined after England’s chief medical adviser warned social distancing could remain in place until the end of the year.  

As talk turns to an exit strategy from the nationwide lockdown, Professor Chris Whitty told last night’s daily Downing Street press conference that ‘very socially disruptive’ distancing measures would have to remain in place until a vaccine or ‘highly effective drugs’ are available. He added that the possibility of having these things within the next calendar year is ‘incredibly small’. 

He said: ‘In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally. A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed [and/or] highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.

‘Until we have those – and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small, and I think we should be realistic about that – we’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment... but it’s going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that.’

The grim message came after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, told the public the (slightly better) news that the UK had reached the peak of the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite this, Professor Whitty warned that ending social-distancing measures could not be rushed into. ‘If people are hoping it’s suddenly going to move from where we are in lockdown to where suddenly everything is gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation,’ he said. ‘We are going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time.’ 

So, if you haven’t become a lockdown cliché yet, we’re afraid it’s just a matter of time. 

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