Britain will have to “prepare for a hard winter”, a medical chief warned today amid fears flu and new strains of coronavirus could surge at the same time.
Dr Susan Hopkins said mutant strains of Covid-19 from abroad could pose a risk - despite hopes all UK adults will get their first dose of a vaccine as soon as June.
At the same time, she said there is a risk people will be less immune than usual to flu next winter because it has had less chance to spread in lockdown.
Dr Hopkins, Public Health England’s response director for Covid-19, stressed she was looking at a “worst-case scenario” but the nation must be more ready than it was last Autumn.
“We will need to be ready for an Autumn that could be challenging as these variants are there,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
March 8: Schools reopen, up to two people can meet in the park for a coffee or picnic, and hand-holding care home visits can resume with one named visitor after tests and PPE.
March 29: Outdoor socialising rules relaxed so up to six people or two households (whichever is larger) can meet outdoors. Golf, tennis, outdoor organised sport and lidos resume. Stay at home order ends but people still advised to stay local and overnight stays not allowed.
STEP 2 - April 12 at the earliest: Non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms, and outdoor areas of pubs and restaurants reopen. No curfew or 'Scotch egg' rule but punters must stay seated and obey general rules on gathering sizes. Review to report back on possibility of foreign holidays but they're still banned at this point. Driving lessons resume, and wedding guests up from 6 to 15. Self-contained domestic holidays allowed with your own household or bubble only.
STEP 3 - May 17 at the earliest: Outdoor gatherings limit lifted from 6 people to 30. Indoor gatherings of up to 6 people or two households, and overnight stays allowed for the first time. Review to rule on whether you can hug friends and family but general social distancing remains. Foreign travel may be allowed. Indoor areas of pubs and restaurants reopen, as do hotels and B&Bs. Stadium events and theatre can resume at reduced capacity. Weddings limit lifted from 15 to 30, receptions allowed along with Bar Mitzvahs and other life events. Saunas and steam rooms reopen.
STEP 4 - June 21 at the earliest: Government hoping to remove all remaining legal restrictions - and reopen nightclubs and standing-only gigs - but will depend on review of wider social distancing rules and of vaccine and testing passports. Masks and hand-washing instructions may remain as may the two-metre rule in some situations or a testing regime. For a full guide click here.
Dr Hopkins said the government was working closely with vaccine firms to develop a booster shot to any new variants, but added: “We’re also very conscious that what happened last summer and late summer and early September could happen again. We need to be prepared for that and hope it doesn’t happen”.
It comes despite the vaccine rollout storming ahead with over-56s now being offered the chance to come forward for their first dose.
Dr Hopkins said “I think that we will hopefully all have our summer holidays” and new variants are unlikely to have any impact on lockdown easing in the next three to five weeks.
But she added: “I think we have to prepare for a hard winter - not only with coronavirus but we’ve had a year of almost no respiratory viruses of any other type.
“And that means potentially the population immunity to that is less. And so we could see surges in flu, we could see surges in other respiratory viruses and pathogens.”
It comes after six cases of the P.1 Covid “variant of concern” first found in Manaus, Brazil, were detected in the UK.
Experts fear the vaccine may be less effective against the P.1 strain, along with another from South Africa also seen in the UK, than against other forms of coronavirus.
Tests are still being carried out to establish whether the variants are resistant to vaccines or spread more easily.