The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Prof Chris Whitty has told 115 senior rabbis that the country will have to “coexist” with coronavirus for a year or so, adding that the deadly second wave in Israel served as a warning.
Addressing Jewish faith leaders online during the first day of the Chief Rabbi’s two-day Annual Conference for Rabbis, Whitty said “science will ultimately come to the rescue” in the form of vaccines and drugs, but not for some time.
“We need to assume, for the sake of argument, that from now until this time next year, that we’re going to have to coexist with this as a significant threat,” he said.
“We are in a relative lull in the UK, but the opening up of society obviously carries risks that there will be some kind of resurgence, either in geographical areas such as we’ve seen in Leicester, or across the country as a whole.
“All of you will be watching with sadness at the situation in Israel where there has been, after the releasing of some of the measures, it went down in Israel and then came back up again. That’s an example of what we need to be very mindful of as we go into the next period.”
He said that he felt numbers could stay low for the next two months, but that “the next big inflection point, if we don’t get a resurgence as a result of the changes that have recently been made, will be children going back to school in September”.
Whitty said: “Many of the things we’ve been trying to do is to stop households meeting that otherwise wouldn’t. If one member of a household gets an infection, other members either will or won’t but there’s not much we can do to intervene.”
He added: “If we look to the medium-term I can see a very optimistic picture, but we have to be realistic that the next nine months are going to be really quite problematic, and bringing people together in closed environments is the biggest risk.”
Together with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, Whitty has fronted news conferences with Prime Minister Boris Johnson throughout the pandemic and was described by conference participants this week as “excellent”.
Following his opening reflections on Wednesday, as part of a two-day conference, he addressed rabbis’ specific queries in “a very extensive question” and answer session, held under Chatham House rules.