Third wave of coronavirus 'entirely possible', government advisor warns

George Martin
·3 mins read
 Members of public wearing face masks walk past a "Social Distancing" sign at Regents Street during coronavirus pandemic. It is mandatory to wear face masks while travelling. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The UK went into lockdown for the first time in March. (PA)

One of the government’s scientific advisors has warned that a third wave of coronavirus in the UK is “entirely possible” if no vaccine is found.

Professor Mark Woolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh, said the current strategy of stopping flare-ups with lockdowns was failing to solve the problem “in the long-term”.

Woolhouse, who sits on the government’s advisory body that models pandemics, said a vaccine needed to be found to provide a lasting solution to the pandemic.

“The government’s strategy is to sit this out for the next six months, that’s what we’re told,” he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

 People walk along Oxford Street while while wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Members of the public wearing protective face masks as they shop in Central London as further lockdown measures are proposed for the capital later this week. The UK government is preparing for a possible second nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
People walk along Oxford Street while while wearing face masks. (PA)

“And implicitly in that the expectation is that after six months something will be different. And the obvious something is for there to be a vaccine.

“I have to say that most people I have talked to involved with vaccine development think that we may have a vaccine in six months but it’s doubtful that we will have been able to roll it out on a mass scale by then.

“So we’re in a difficult situation for some months to come I’m afraid.”

Read more: Pubs, restaurants and cafés ‘contributed to a fifth of COVID-19 infections’

Prof Woolhouse said the government’s failure to plan for anything other than a lockdown had made the possibility of a second wave more likely.

“When we started modelling this way back in March, before the first lockdown, it was very apparent from the work that my group did and many other groups did that all a lockdown ever did is defer the problem,” he said.

Watch: NHS tracing app problem that left tens of thousands of tests unlogged has been fixed, government says

“It solves an immediate crisis because it reduces transmission quickly, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem in the long-term – it doesn’t make the virus go away.

“So in the middle of March we were modelling scenarios where it was entirely possible that we would need to lockdown again in September, and that’s exactly the position we find ourselves in.”

Asked whether there would be a third wave of the pandemic, Woolhouse said it was “entirely possible”.

“The scenario I mentioned earlier does actually include this possibility [of a third wave]. And this is just another demonstration that lockdown doesn’t solve the problem, it defers it.

“That is why we need some kind of cavalry on the horizon, or alternatively if we think the vaccine is not going to be available in six months, or 12 months, or two years or whenever it may be that we do need alternatives.

“The alternatives that have been mentioned so far are things like the ‘Moonshot programme’ for mass testing, and there may be others on the horizon too.”

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news, advice and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter