Strict lockdown measures must continue to stop the evolution of more dangerous variants of Covid-19, Norwich scientists have warned.

Scientists from the Earlham Institute, based at Norwich Research Park, say it is crucial to stop more virulent variants from emerging to give the coronavirus vaccine roll-out the best chance of succeeding.

While the government has said it will review data next month to see if some easing of restrictions could be possible, scientists have stressed the importance of lockdown.

Eastern Daily Press: Prof Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute.Prof Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute. (Image: Earlham Institute.)

Prof Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, said: "To give vaccines the best chance of controlling the virus we need to prioritise reducing cases through more rigorous transmission control.

"Otherwise, we’re at risk of virus variants appearing that escape the vaccine-induced immunity, and this pandemic will linger on for years.

“A major issue is our current high transmission rate; although the coronavirus has a low mutation rate, every transmission of this virus creates an opportunity for adaptation.

"Therefore, there is always a chance of new variants of the virus emerging that are vaccine-resistant."

Scientists from the institute previously said there may be a need to develop a vaccine for pets, such as cats and dogs.

Prof Hall said: "These potential variants could also be transmissible in domestic animals, which is why my colleagues and I make a case for the continued use of strict control measures to give the vaccine the best chance of long-term efficacy, as well as considering a programme of vaccination for pets in the future.”

Eastern Daily Press: The Earlham Institute.The Earlham Institute. (Image: Archant)

The new UK Covid-19 variant has circulated widely in Norfolk, while there have been three cases of the South African strain, although public health chiefs said those were linked to travel to and from the country and it was not spreading in the community.

In an editorial for the journal Virulence, Prof Hall and fellow scientists say: “We must stop the evolution and spread of more virulent virus strains now.

"We, therefore, support public health policies with strict control measures in order to protect our public health system, our individual wellbeing, and our future.”

WHO: Success will be measured by reducing virus' capacity to