The UK will have to live with some disruptive social measures for at least the rest of the year, the government’s chief medical adviser has said.
Prof Chris Whitty said it was “wholly unrealistic” to expect life would suddenly return to normal soon.
He said “in the long run” the ideal way out would be via a “highly effective vaccine” or drugs to treat the disease.
But he warned that the chance of having those within the next calendar year was “incredibly small”.
“This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear,” he said, at the government’s daily coronavirus briefing.
“So we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with globally… for the foreseeable future.”
The latest figures show a further 759 people have died with the virus in UK hospitals, bringing the total number of deaths to 18,100.
Prof Whitty said the public should not expect the number of coronavirus-related deaths to “fall away” suddenly after the peak.
“In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally,” he said.
“A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed… or highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.”
Prof Whitty warned there were multiple different ways in which the coronavirus epidemic would result in deaths or ill health.
As well as those dying from Covid-19, he said others may die indirectly because the NHS has had to be “reoriented towards Covid”, leading to fewer elective procedures and screening.
He also said if the interventions in place “extend deprivation among people” that would increase the risk to their long-term health.
“So what we have to do is think very seriously about this: what is the best balance of measures that gives us the best public health outcome?”
He said there was a “proper trade-off” which ministers would have to consider.
Also speaking at the briefing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said easing social distancing measures too soon would risk a second spike of coronavirus cases.
He said this could trigger a second lockdown that would “prolong the economic pain” across the country.
Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, acknowledged the mental, physical and economic strain social distancing measures were having on people throughout the UK but said they “must remain in place for the time being”.
Gen Sir Nick Carter, the chief of the defence staff, also joined Wednesday’s press conference and described the military response to coronavirus as the “single greatest logistical feat” of his 40 years of service