Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, described how vaccines could be used to enable schools to reopen and people to visit crowded bars and restaurants, but said “the cost is restricted movement internationally”.
Asked whether fully stopping transmission of the disease could be done, Profesor Sridhar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We have seen that it’s possible.
“If we look across the world to New Zealand, Australia, East Asian countries, and even the debate’s now happening within Japan and now in Germany, you’re seeing there’s a turn towards saying: ‘Do we want to use our vaccines and the tools we have to actually just stop transmission of the virus and be able to get back our normal life’, which means normal schooling, fully open and crowded restaurants and bars, gyms and fitness studios, live music festivals, large spectator sports events, but the cost is restricted movement internationally?
“I think we need to have a very open debate about that because I think people want it all, and realising that (in) a pandemic, when we try to have it all we end up having very little.”
She said variants would make 2021 “very challenging, and the end of this pandemic is a very torturous and a long path ahead for the entire world”.
Prof Sridhar said the Westminster aim of isolating people from a limited number of countries “is just not good enough because the variant could be coming from a country that’s not on our list”.
She also said if only older and more vulnerable people were vaccinated in the future, there would still be severe disease in younger age groups.
“I think the two really challenging things about living with Covid is first that it’s not like it only kills people over 70 or over 60,” she said.
“We saw London ICU’s full of people from 40 upwards, 40 to 60, and if you’re younger than that, you could get long Covid and the associated morbidity.
“So I think if we do move to an approach of living with it, the things we need to think about is how do we deal with hospitalisations among younger people?
“Are we willing to accept that? Or do we need to vaccinate against severe disease instead of just thinking over-70s or 60s, do we need to already go down to under-30s? What about children? Do we say ‘we vaccinate children against flu, we have to vaccinate kids against Covid’?”
Prof Sridhar said a debate was needed “because the worst thing would be to be in restrictions again next winter and to not plan for a new variant coming back, and then being stuck and wondering actually how do we get out of the pit again that we’re in right now?”
Her comments come a day after Boris Johnson warned it was “too early for people to be certain about what we will be able to do this summer”.