Virus expert optimistic no need for Christmas Covid-19 restrictions

Prof Paul Hunter, from the UEA, has encouraged people to donate to the WHO's Covid-19 Response Fund

Prof Paul Hunter. - Credit: UEA

A Norfolk virus expert has said he remains optimistic Covid-19 case rates will not reach a point to trigger restrictions over Christmas.

And Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia's school of medicine, says he believes rising rates in some parts of Europe demonstrate how other countries are catching up with what has happened in the UK, rather than signs of a fresh wave of the virus.

His remarks came as Boris Johnson urged the public to get vaccinated in order to avoid the re-introduction of Covid-19 restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19).

Prime minister Boris Johnson. - Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire

The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference there were "storm clouds" gathering, with a "new wave" of the virus sweeping through central Europe and now affecting western Europe.

The government has said the Covid-19 vaccine booster programme is to be extended to include healthy 40 to 49-year-olds.

Audrey Burton, 97, receiving her COVID-19 vaccination at the Castle Quarter Vaccination Centre in No

Booster vaccinations are to be extended. - Credit: Danielle Booden

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation also said 16 and 17-year-olds should come forward for a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

Mr Johnson said there was "nothing in the data" to suggest the country needed to move to Plan B of Covid measures.

Case rates in the UK have been comparatively flat in recent weeks and have fallen by more than a quarter in Norfolk.

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Prof Hunter said: "I am quite optimistic about the next couple of months. I am hoping that case number will start to fall again. I think there's a reasonable chance of that happening.

"In terms of Christmas for us, I can't see cases increasing to the extent that restrictions would be needed."

Prof Hunter was not convinced by the prime minister's claim that the rates in parts of Europe were evidence of a "new wave" - but rather those countries catching up to what has already happened in the UK.

He said: "I think what's happened is we had more infections, but we had our vaccination campaign ahead of the rest of Europe.

"We were on the way to vaccination waning during the summer, so that's why we had the increase going into autumn.

"Europe's cases are a bit behind where we were in waning, which I think is why they're seeing case rates rising now."

He said the further roll-out of booster jabs would help reduce pressure on the NHS.

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