Covid restrictions may be needed for years to come - UEA experts

Shoppers around Norwich Market shopping local and staying safe in masks.Picture by: Sonya Duncan

A UEA study has found Covid restrictions may be needed for years to come - Credit: Archant

Covid-related restrictions such as lockdowns and mask wearing may be needed for years to come, according to a group of Norwich-based experts.

Scientists from the University of Anglia (UEA) examined various possible outcomes from the vaccination programme and its impact on virus transmission. 

Norwich city centre during Coronavirus lockdown 31st March 2020. Norwich lanes, Pue Brides boarded u

An empty Norwich street during Covid lockdown in March 2020 - Credit: Archant

They found that plausible scenarios - such as low vaccine efficacy and short-term immunity - would inevitably result in more deaths, even if vaccination was frequent. 

But under more optimistic scenarios, mass immunisation using effective jabs may enable a return to normality. 

The team used computer simulations to model transmission until 2029, providing insight into the effect of vaccine-induced and naturally acquired immunity.

Lead researcher Professor Fujian Song, from the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: "People may have naturally acquired immunity if they have already had Covid-19 and vaccines will also reduce people’s susceptibility to being infected.

“Under the most optimistic mass immunisation scenarios, we found that society may be able to safely return to normality.

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“However, it’s still plausible that this may not happen. We are still not certain about how long immunity lasts after vaccination, and how effective naturally and vaccine-induced immune responses are on transmission.

Commuters wearing face masks travelling on buses in Norwich, in line with government guidelines for

A UEA study has found Covid restrictions - such as mask wearing - may be needed for years to come - Credit: Archant

“With plausible pessimistic scenarios, Covid-19 could continue to cause recurrent waves of mortality despite frequent vaccinations."

With a jab efficacy of more than 70pc, the research team found vaccine-induced immunity lasted more than 182 days and the infectiousness of re-infected cases was reduced by more than 40pc.

A mass vaccination programme covering 80pc of over-16s would therefore prevent further outbreaks, the researchers said. 

The main roads around Norwich during January's lockdown. The A47 at Longwater.

An almost-empty A47 during coronavirus lockdown - Credit: Archant

Under such optimistic scenarios, the team estimated a cumulative Covid death toll of between 113,000 and 115,000 in England by the end of 2029.

However, under plausible scenarios with lower efficacy, and therefore shorter immunity and a smaller reduction in infectivity, researchers concluded that repeat vaccination programmes could not prevent further waves.

Prof Song added: "Non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce the spread such as social and travel restrictions, closure of businesses and mask wearing could be here for the long term."

Due to the rapid nature of the research, it has not yet been peer reviewed. 

Shoppers out in force wearing masks in Norwich city centre on the first day it became mandatory for

A UEA study has found Covid restrictions may be needed for years to come - Credit: Archant


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