The UK may face multiple coronavirus epidemics as well as a new crisis when winter flu hits, the government has said.
The stark warnings came in a new document outlining Boris Johnson’s plan to eventually lift the coronavirus lockdown in the UK.
The paper predicts that COVID-19 will circulate among humans “long term”, risking further outbreaks, and warns that social distancing measures must stay in place to prevent further waves.
It reads: “It is likely that COVID-19 will circulate in the human population long-term, possibly causing periodic epidemics.
“In the near future, large epidemic waves cannot be excluded without continuing some measures.”
The government made a further warning of the risks posed by an outbreak of winter flu when combined with coronavirus.
The document says: “The government must prepare for the challenges that the winter flu season will bring.
“This will have wide-ranging effects, from impeding any efforts to trace the virus (because so many people without COVID-19 are likely to have symptoms that resemble COVID-19), to increasing the demand for hospital beds.”
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The “road map” for exiting lockdown included a number of new measures, including advising the public to wear face masks in shops and on public transport.
A tweak to the rules now means people are allowed to meet up with one person outside of their household out of doors as long as they stay two metres apart.
The plan includes measures the government hopes to introduce in the coming months, as long as the infection rate of COVID-19 has reduced sufficiently.
Non-essential shops could be able to open no earlier than 1 June if it can be proven they can enforce social distancing, and people may be able to link up with one other household to socialise in a “bubble”.
In a further phase, the government hopes to allow businesses including hairdressers, pubs, cinemas and places of worship to open as soon as 4 July, so long as they can meet new “COVID-secure” guidelines.
The publication of the document followed an address from the prime minister on Sunday night, in which he outlined a “sketch” of the forthcoming measures.
He was accused of muddying the waters after telling the public they should return to work straight away if they are unable to work from home, before guidance on safe workspaces was issued.
There was further confusion over meeting up with people outside your household.
The PM said on Sunday: “You can sit in the sun in your local park, you can drive to other destinations, you can even play sports but only with members of your own household.”
A government official later said that in fact people in England are now allowed to sit in the park with someone outside of their household, so long as they are two metres apart.