Coronavirus: will life go back to normal after COVID-19?

Medically reviewed Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB), words Claire Chamberlain
Photo credit: ByronChambers - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

With the UK government beginning to ease some lockdown measures, many of us are wondering when we can expect life to go back to ‘normal’ or to at least bear some semblance to our existence before the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK was in lockdown for seven weeks until, on 10 May, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ‘road map’ of measures that would help to ease England out of lockdown. Certain restrictions have already started being relaxed, based on a Covid Alert System.

So, does this mean we are on the road to normality?

What is the Covid Alert System?

The new five-point Covid Alert System determines the threat level of the virus, on a scale of one (green) to five (red). Run by a Joint Biosecurity Centre, the system is mostly based on reinfection rate (the R value) and the number of coronavirus cases. The higher the threat level of the virus, the tougher social distancing measures will need to become, with the threat level adjusted based on scientific and medical data.

What are the five Covid alert levels?

Level 5: critical

This level indicates the virus is spreading fast, with the potential to overwhelm the NHS. Strict lockdown measures would be necessary.

Level 4: severe

This level shows the virus is spreading, but the NHS is coping despite being stretched.

Level 3: substantial

This level shows that the virus is still circulating and the NHS is operating at extra capacity. Some restrictions will need to remain, while others can be relaxed.

Level 2: moderate

This level indicates a low level of virus transmission, with the NHS operating normally. Schools, shops and businesses should be able to open, subject to social distancing measures.

Level 1: low

This level indicates the virus is no longer present in the UK. All restrictions would be lifted.

Throughout lockdown, the UK has been at Level 4 but, according to the Prime Minister, we are now moving into Level 3. Whether we continue to do so or not depends on the R value.

What are the new social distancing rules?

As of 13 May, certain restrictions have been relaxed in England. The updated measures now mean:

• You are allowed to sit down, sunbathe and picnic in public spaces, such as parks or beaches, as long as social distancing is maintained. You are also allowed to drive to open spaces, irrespective of distance.

• You can take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. You can also take part in outdoor sports, such as tennis, as long as it’s with members of your own household, or one other person from a different household providing you maintain social distancing.

• Anyone who can’t work from home will actively be encouraged to return to work.

• You can meet up with one other person outside of your own household, as long as you maintain social distancing.

When will schools and shop reopen?

Further relaxing of restrictions are due to take place over the coming weeks, with the phased reopening of schools (starting with Reception, Year One and Year Six primary pupils), as well as the phased reopening of non-essential shops.

If the R value stays down, the hospitality, personal care and leisure industries could see a phased reopening from July.

When will life go back to normal after coronavirus?

While the Covid Alert System signposts a path back to normality, it is clearly going to be a long journey, with many experts stating we may not return to ‘normal’ until 2021.

Several factor could influence this, including:

A vaccine

A vaccine would allow lockdown measures to be lifted more safely. A vaccine under development at Oxford University is now at the human trials stage and, while it usually takes up to 18 months to develop a viable vaccine, scientists are confident this one could be ready towards the end of the year.

An antibody test

A new antibody test has been developed by Swiss company Roche, which has been shown to be 100 per cent accurate, meaning there are no false positives. It can pick up whether you have had the virus, even if you have been asymptomatic. A test of this kind would increase confidence in returning to work and everyday activities.

The virus running its course

Professor Karol Sikora, former World Health Organisation chief oncologist, has tweeted, ‘There is a real chance that the virus will burn out naturally before any vaccine is developed. We are seeing a roughly similar pattern everywhere – I suspect we have more immunity than estimated. We need to keep slowing the virus, but it could be petering out by itself.’

He has also added that, ‘Summer's coming and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. There is growing evidence to show that the virus struggles in warmer climates. With the added ventilation outdoors and a healthier population, we can be confident that the summer will bring better news.’

Will coronavirus die out?

Of course, the prospect of Covid-19 disappearing for good remains unlikely. Some believe we will see future waves of the disease occurring, perhaps seasonally, while others predict Covid-19 may become an endemic (steady state) respiratory virus, both in the UK and the rest of the world.

Last updated: 19-05-2020

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