Behaviour during the festive period will have a “big impact” on how long it takes for life to return to normal, the lead researcher behind the Oxford jab has warned.
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said that travelling and mixing with others over Christmas could hinder the Covid-19 vaccination programme in the new year.
It comes after NHS bosses warned Boris Johnson that any relaxation of restrictions in England’s tier system may trigger a third wave of the pandemic at the busiest time of the year for hospitals.
Restrictions are due to be relaxed across the UK between December 23 and 27 to allow families to form “Christmas bubbles” and spend time together over the festive period.
“What we’ve seen in the US is that after Thanksgiving, when people were travelling and mixing, there’s now been a big surge in infections and they’re seeing 3,000 deaths a day now – the highest rate there’s ever been in any country,” Prof Gilbert said.
“If we have that kind of thing happening over the Christmas holidays in this country, with very high transmission rates then possible in January, it’s going to take so much longer to get things back to normal.
“So I think what we do over the next few weeks is really going to have a big impact on how long it’s going to take to get back to the normal.”
She added: “Hopefully we could be more or less back to normal by the summer, but that’s not going to be possible if we’re starting from a very bad position in January.”
Meanwhile, in a letter to the Prime Minister, NHS Providers urged “extreme caution” in moving any area of the country to a lower tier.
The first review of England’s tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday, two weeks after the three-tier system was brought in following the end of lockdown.
But areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions “as soon as this is needed, without any delay”, according to the letter from NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England.
Chief executive Chris Hopson told the BBC: “We’re about to hit our busiest time of year so people are really worried that if we relax the restrictions now the NHS simply won’t be able to cope with all of the work that it needs to do in late December, January and February.”
While the letter did not call for a review of the temporary relaxation of measures over Christmas, NHS Providers said it was “vital” the public understands the risks of extra social contact during the festive period.
A Government spokeswoman said ministers will not “hesitate to take necessary actions to protect local communities” and that decisions are made based on the latest available data.
“We have introduced strengthened local restrictions to protect the progress gained during national restrictions, reduce pressure on the NHS and ultimately save lives,” the spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, schools in Greenwich have been asked to close from Monday evening and switch to online learning following “exponential growth” of coronavirus in the east London borough.
In a letter to parents on Sunday, council leader Danny Thorpe said: “We now have the highest rates of infection in Greenwich than at any time since March, and for these reasons I have therefore asked all schools in Greenwich to close their premises from Monday evening and move to online learning for the duration of the term, with the exception of key worker children and those with specific needs (exactly the same as in the first lockdown).”
On Saturday, the Government said a further 519 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 in the UK, with a further 21,502 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The Health Secretary has indicated that towns and villages will not be able to move alert level by being “decoupled” from nearby coronavirus hotspots.
Matt Hancock said in a letter to Tory MPs that “narrow carve-outs” of lower prevalence areas often leads to them “catching up” or “overtaking” areas with higher levels, according to the Daily Telegraph.