WHO says world 'can't wait' for covid-19 vaccine before lifting lockdowns

16 April 2020, 14:25

The WHO said the world "cannot wait" for a vaccine
The WHO said the world "cannot wait" for a vaccine. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said countries around the world "can't wait" for a Covid-19 vaccine to become available before lifting lockdown measures.

Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at WHO Europe, warned that any vaccine is at least 18 months away.

She also dismissed suggestions from health minister Nadine Dorries that the UK needs a vaccine before it can "exit full lockdown".

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During a briefing on Thursday, Ms Smallwood said: "The WHO is not saying we need to wait for a vaccine.

"We don't know when a vaccine will be available for use in our populations and what we don't want to do is take action based on the situation now.

"We need to think of ourselves in a position of a new normal until such a time that a vaccine might become available to us."

She added that more than 70 coronavirus vaccines are currently being developed, but that it is likely to be at least 18 months before one is available.

"We are aware that in reality it normally takes several years for a vaccine to become available, but we can't predict when a vaccine will become available and we can't wait for that," she said.

The UK's current lockdown measures are expected to be extended on Thursday evening.

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It comes as a government scientific advisor said that the UK will need to keep "significant levels" of social distancing until a vaccine is found.

Professor Neil Ferguson said there is "little leeway" to relax measures without something in their place".

Prof Ferguson added: "Without that, our estimates show we have relatively little leeway; if we relax measures too much then we'll see a resurgence of transmission.

"What we really need is the ability to put something in their place. If we want to open schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner.

"And I should say, it's not going to be going back to normal. We will have to maintain some level of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available."

He suggested testing and contact tracing be used.

It comes after the Office for National Statistics announced this morning that one in every 10 coronavirus deaths had no known underlying health conditions.

According to the latest figures, 12,868 patients have died from coronavirus in the UK.