When a grim-faced Prime Minister addressed the nation on Tuesday night, one thing was clear.

This coronavirus pandemic is not going away for a long time and people around the world will have to find ways of living with it.

In his address to the Commons announcing the new measures ahead of the broadcast, Boris Johnson warned that the restrictions could be in place for 'six months, perhaps'.

This will come as a surprise to many people who were confused by the government's mixed messaging over the summer when they were actively encouraged to return to work and Eat Out To Help Out to help the beleaguered hospitality industry as the virus was supressed post-lockdown.

Indeed, on social media, and in newspaper comment sections, many are questioning whether we ought to adopt a Sweden-style policy in which we accept the virus as a fact of life and return as best we can to normal, to minimise the impact of lockdown measures on the economy and society.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announcing the new Jobs Support Scheme on Thursday, said it was 'now clear, as the Prime Minister and our scientific advisers have said, for at least the next six months the virus and restrictions are going to be a fact of our lives. Our economy is now likely to undergo a more permanent adjustment'.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, speaking at a press conference on Thursday

However, he also said on Thursday that the country must learn to 'live without fear' - a sentiment welcomed by politicians and members of the public who feel the limits on freedoms are disproportionate.

New laboratory-confirmed cases have passed 6,000 a day (as of Wednesday September 23) with warnings from Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty it could be almost 10 times' that figure by mid-October if action is not taken.

Would a scenario in which those most at risk of serious illness or death were encouraged to shield, while everyone else returns to normality be possible?

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Asked by the M.E.N. Professor Jonathan Read, an epidemiologist from Lancaster University, said the idea 'is alluring, but nearly impossible to achieve'.

"Covid is not going away any time soon," he said.

"It is certainly not going to disappear before Christmas.

"So, in many ways we do need to rethink how we go about day to day life and change how we interact with other people and society, to personally reduce the potential for transmission as much as we can.

"How could a segregated society actually work?", he asked. "Those at high risk still need to visit supermarkets, the Post Office and other essential services. They may need to use public transport to get there."

Coronavirus cases are on the rise and we could be in for a long haul

Prof Read pointed out that those in care homes need 'people to cook and care for them'.

"Should the carers' and cooks' families also shield themselves from the rest of society too?"

"What about doctors, nurses, hospital staff, other patients, and all their families? That’s a lot of people!

"We can’t split society apart; we’re too integrated.

"Young people may feel that it’s easy to avoid the elderly in direct contact, but we are all only a few social interactions, coughs or sneezes away from each other when you consider how dense our real social network is normally.

"The idea that we can successfully protect the vulnerable while letting the virus spread freely in the rest of the population is wishful thinking."

'It certainly will not be going away by Christmas', Prof Read warns

"Unfortunately", Prof Read added, "There's no easy solution to how to balance the competing demands of controlling transmission and squashing the epidemic, maintaining a thriving economy, and still living highly gregarious social lives.

"Every country in the world is trying to figure this dilemma out."

Prof Read questions whether a 'circuit-breaker' lockdown - a short, sharp period of sharp social distancing and restriction mooted previously by Boris Johnson, would actually be effective.

Boris Johnson updated the nation on Tuesday night

"The idea is that during a short two-week period, by determinedly reducing opportunities for transmission (by reducing social interactions), we could force the virus into retreat, and make the number of new cases fall (R less than 1 for this period), shrinking the size of the epidemic and giving some breathing space, and avoiding an imminent surge in cases," Prof Read explained.

"A two-week period of stronger restrictions may be more tolerable than the three-month ‘lockdown’ we had earlier in the year, but it would still come at an economic and societal cost.

"And, unfortunately, this could only be a temporary measure in reversing the growth of the epidemic – once the brakes are off, the epidemic can gather momentum and grow again. So, we come back to trying to adapt our lives to the virus for the time being."

Care home staff use PPE to protect vulnerable residents - and themselves

Prof Read also raised the risk of 'long Covid' to younger patients, saying the as the virus is new, 'we still don't know how common, severe or long-lasting long Covid' complications may be.'

"It serves to illustrate the point that everyone should aim to reduce their own risk of catching and spreading Covid as best they can, both for society, the vulnerable, but also their own health," he said.

The latest figures reveal the number of deaths in the region's hospitals

Another expert in the field, Professor Carl Heneghan the head of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University describes the current system as 'utter chaos.'

In an interview with the BBC, he said the constant stream of new restrictions and schools sending whole year groups home when one person tests positive is confusing.

This, Prof Heneghan said, is the consequence of trying to suppress the virus.

Instead, he argued we should accept it is here to stay and try to minimise the risks, while balancing that against the consequences of the actions we take.

In particular, he's concerned the Covid test is actually so sensitive it's picking up what are effectively dead virus cells, as it spots traces of it months after the person has stopped being infectious.

"We need to slow down our thinking. But every time the government sees a rise in cases it seems to panic," he added.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance leaving Downing Street on Monday

However, at a briefing this week, Professor Chris Whitty - England's Chief Medical Officer - revealed that only eight per cent of the population has antibodies.

This could be higher in London, where up to 16 per cent could have coronavirus antibodies, he said at a briefing with the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

It is worth noting it is not yet clear how long these antibodies remain effective.

And there remains a potential risk that any vaccine that is developed may not lead to a strong enough immune response in the older population.

This would mean you are relying on enough younger people to get vaccinated to help create herd immunity.

Like other coronaviruses, all the evidence on Covid so far seems to suggest it offers some immunity with antibodies that wanes, but is followed by reinfections that lead to milder illness.

Over the years, this is likely to mean coronavirus is downgraded to just another seasonal virus that we have to put up with every winter.

A coronavirus swab is tested in a laboratory

With one important caveat: This virus is so new, so scientists are discovering more about it all the time.

Asked about disagreement and debate among scientists, Sage member Professor Peter Openshaw, speaking in a personal capacity, said: “I think it is a minority view that we should allow this virus to just rip through society and create so-called herd immunity.

"I think that that is not the way that the majority of scientists would side in this debate," added the Professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

Asked if scientists with that view looked like anti-vaxxers, he said: “I would liken it to that situation.

“I think it is wrong to say that we should let this virus just go and infect a large number of people in certain sections of society in order to create immunity.”

Dr David Nabarro is one of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) special envoys on Covid-19

Dr David Nabarro, one of the World Health Organisation's special envoys on Covid, said of the pandemic: "It’s awful. And we really, really are, all of us, deeply saddened and troubled by it.

“But that applies to most people in our world who are all having to make sense of something that they couldn’t imagine.

“It’s much worse than any of the science fiction about pandemics.

“This is really serious – we’re not even in the middle of it yet. We’re still at the beginning of it.

“And we’re beginning to see what damage it’s going to cause the world.

“And it’s getting nastier as we go into this particular phase in Europe of watching the thing come back again.

“Based on my understanding this virus was visited on us at the very end of last year, and we’ve been learning to live with it for this year, and we will make sense of it, and we will be able to work out how to do it, but it’s going to take us quite a bit longer.”

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