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Lockdowns will likely become a thing of the past once England emerges from restrictions in June, Professor Chris Whitty has said, as he suggested Britain will treat coronavirus like the flu in the future.

England’s chief medical officer said the UK would have to learn to live with the virus, noting that up to 25,000 people can die in a bad flu year without the figure hitting the headlines.

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“It is clear we are going to have to manage it, at some point, rather like we manage the flu. Here is a seasonal, very dangerous disease that kills thousands of people and society has chosen a particular way round it,” he said.

Speaking at a Royal Society of Medicine webinar, said the government would only be forced to “pull the alarm cord” if a dangerous new strain suddenly started to spread, but that it was “not realistic” to think Covid variants could be kept out of the country.

Whitty said the government’s ambition was to shrink Covid deaths to the lowest level possible, but warned that society would not tolerate sweeping restrictions to prevent similar numbers of deaths to those from seasonal flu.

“We need to work out some balance which actually keeps it at a low level, minimises deaths as best we can, but in a way that the population tolerates, through medical countermeasures like vaccines and in due course drugs, which mean you can minimise mortality while not maximising the economic and social impacts on our fellow citizens.”

Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated that his roadmap for leaving lockdown will provide a “cautious but irreversible” path to “reclaiming our freedoms”.

The rapid rollout of the UK’s largest vaccination programme has begun to bear fruit in pushing down infections, hospitalisations and deaths from coronavirus.

Daily Covid cases in the UK have plummeted in recent months from a record 81,570 on 29 December to 4,479 in the past 24 hours.

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