Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the United Kingdom’s deputy chief medical officer, raised more than a few eyebrows this week when he said that mask-wearing, social distancing, and various COVID-19 mitigation procedures could go on “for years,” becoming a part of our social fabric.
“Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say, ‘That’s it, it’s behind us’, like the end of the war? No, I don’t,” Van-Tam said during a Downing Street press conference, as reported by The Sun.
Van-Tam added that it would be a “good thing” if those habits persisted well into the future.
“I think those kind of habits that we have learned from… will perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do,” he said.
Standing beside him, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson immediately chimed in to say, “And maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.”
Speaking with The Sun, Van-Tam said that COVID-19 could “be with human kind forever” and may even become a “seasonal problem.” When Boris Johnson pushed back on some Van-Tam’s doomsaying, the professor clarified that he does not believe heavily restrictive measures will persist, even if the virus does.
“I do like to be challenged when I have, perhaps, not made myself clear, and the Prime Minister has picked me up on this occasion, and it’s quite alright because it gives me a chance to clarify what I mean here,” he said.
“I do not think the Government will continue to have to recommend social distancing, masks, and hand sanitiser forever and a day,” he continued. “I hope we will get back to a much more normal world. But, the point I was trying to make was – do I think, possibly, some of those personal habits for some people will persist longer, and, perhaps, become enduring for some people, yes, I think that’s possible.”
Van-Tam later added that COVID-19 could become a seasonal problem like the flu — something that humans have to learn to live with.
“I think it’s going to be with humankind forever,” he said. “I think we may get to a point where coronavirus becomes a seasonal problem – I don’t want to join too many parallels with flu – but possibly that is the kind of way we would learn to live it.”
Van-Tam also stressed the importance of a vaccine for people who want the problem to go away.
“This vaccine isn’t going to help you if you don’t take it. You will need two doses of this vaccine to have full protection,” he said. “Watching others take it and hoping it will protect you too doesn’t work necessarily. We don’t know if it prevents transmission.”