Stringent precautions to reduce the spread of coronavirus in hospitals will not be scaled back 'for a long time', according to senior doctors.
Families are not expected not be able to visit sick relatives until 'well into next year', despite tumbling hospitalisation rates.
And virtual appointments will likely continue into the near future before outpatient clinics are phased back very gradually, they warned.
Stringent measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus in hospitals will not be scaled back 'for a long time', according to senior doctors
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), said hospitals will not revert to how they were pre-pandemic until 2022.
'We will still have to restrict visitors and retain social distancing, doing as much as we can virtually, for at least the rest of the year and beyond,' he told the Sunday Telegraph.
Professor David Oliver, a seasoned consultant, agreed: 'There's no way that out-patient numbers will return to the volumes of before for quite a while.'
Most hospitals have stopped all visits from loved ones except in extreme circumstances, such as the patient dying.
The number of Covid patients admitted to hospital has halved in just a month, falling from 38,839 on January 19 to 14,808 on February 24.
Cases and deaths are also both trending downwards as the pincer movement of vaccines and lockdown suppresses the spread of disease.
Virtual appointments will also continue until outpatient clinics are phased back very gradually
Yet scientists have warned of a potential resurgence if restrictions are lifted too soon, informing Boris Johnson's cautious road map to end lockdown by June 21 at the earliest.
However despite this 'big bang' moment in the summer when ministers do away with all remaining restrictions, the doctors said hospitals will continue to tread carefully.
Prof Goddard said: 'The days of simply walking into a busy hospital outpatient waiting room won't be back for a long time.'
Figures from last April to December showed their were 18million fewer outpatients in hospitals and 2.7million elective operations.
Proceeding uber-cautiously has fanned fears that vital appointments and surgery, particularly cancer treatment, could be delayed even further.
NHS bosses also say staff are also feeling both emotionally and physically drained after a torrid year for hospital deaths.
Prof Goddard recently said: 'I've cried more at work this [past] year than I have ever in my entire life.
'I've had good friends and colleagues die from Covid and that will stay with me forever.'
Against this backdrop, the RCP said staff must be given time off to rest and recover from the pressure of the pandemic, to enable them to tackle the backlog of non-Covid care.