Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Science & Tech
  2. Coronavirus
22 April 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Evening summary: Whitty warns of long-term social disruption

By Samuel Horti

Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser and the chief medical officer for England, today gave the clearest indication yet of just how long social distancing will last – and, in his words, it’s a “long time”.

There were two ways we would exit the current crisis, he said. First, with a “highly effective vaccine”, or second, with “highly effective drugs” that could either treat or prevent Covid-19. The chances of having one or both “any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small”, he said. Until that point, the UK will have to rely on “social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive” to suppress the virus.

It’s not fully clear whether, by “any time in the next calendar”, he meant before the end of 2020 or within the next 12 months (the latter seems more likely, judging by his other comments), but either way: social distancing is here to stay.

Whitty also explained, in more detail than we’ve previously heard, the process for easing coronavirus restrictions over time. The key was to keep the “R” value – the number of people an infected person spreads the disease to – below one. A value of higher than one would cause the virus to spread through the population.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Scientific experts will weigh up the impact of easing any given measure, or of introducing a new measure such as contact tracing, on the R value. It will evaluate these measures in different combinations to see which keep the R value below one, and will from there provide a range of options to ministers, who will then decide how to proceed.