British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that a mass vaccine for the novel coronavirus may be over a year away and, in the worst-case scenario, may in fact never be found.
In his foreword to the government's new 50-page guidance on a step by step easing of the lockdown measures in place to control the spread of the deadly virus, the UK prime minister lays out plans for businesses to gradually start reopening with "COVID-19 Secure" measures of social distancing and for the public to use "good solid British common sense" as the economy is unlocked.
"A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away," said Johnson, highlighting the work being done in the UK by scientists at Oxford University and Imperial College London towards this mission.
"Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine. So our plan must countenance a situation where we are in this, together, for the long haul, even while doing all we can to avoid that outcome," he said.
Admitting that a vaccine or drug-based treatment is the only "feasible long-term solution", he said the UK has accelerated this with "promising" vaccine development programmes and a collaboration between Oxford University and pharma major AstraZeneca was a vital step that could help rapidly advance the manufacture of a Covid-19 vaccine when it is ready.
As part of global efforts, he flagged the GBP 388 million in aid funding for research into vaccines, tests and treatment, including GBP 250m to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
"But while we hope for a breakthrough, hope is not a plan," he said, as he unveiled his plan for starting to lift lockdown restrictions from this week in phases.
Following a televised address to the nation on Sunday night and a statement in Parliament on Monday, the guidance comes into effect in public life across England from Wednesday when people will be allowed one-to-one contact with people other than those they live with, as long as they remain outside and two metres apart.
They are allowed to play sport with a friend or family member from outside their household or socialise with them in the open air for the first time in more than six weeks since the lockdown was imposed.
People are still advised to work from home where possible but start heading into work where necessary, in sectors such as construction and manufacturing, keeping the social distancing norms in place.
Under the step by step plan, by the start of next month non-essential shops will also reopen, with some hairdressers, pubs and cinemas to follow from July. However, as part of a Covid-19 Alert System, if infection rates are seen to be rising again, restrictions would be tightened "possibly at short notice".
Fines for breaching the new rules will also be increased to GBP 100 and will double for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of GBP 3,200.
Johnson said: "I must ask the country to be patient with a continued disruption to our normal way of life, but to be relentless in pursuing our mission to build the systems we need. The worst possible outcome would be a return to the virus being out of control "with the cost to human life, and through the inevitable re-imposition of severe restrictions the cost to the economy. We must stay alert, control the virus, and in doing so, save lives.
Then, as vaccines and treatment become available, we will move to another new phase, where we will learn to live with Covid-19 for the longer term without it dominating our lives.
he devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales are putting their own measures in place and keeping the "stay at home" message in place, rather than switch to the new "stay alert" message.
The UK government's latest messaging has come under attack from the Opposition and other sections of society over a feared lack of clarity for the general public.