Prof Paul Hunter said: ‘We’re going to have to let people who are positive with Covid go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold’
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People with Covid should soon be allowed to “go about their normal lives” as they would with a common cold, a leading UK virus expert has said.
Prof Paul Hunter, who has studied viral outbreaks around the world, was asked on BBC Breakfast about NHS staff shortages due to workers having to isolate.
The professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia said: “This is a disease that’s not going away, the infection is not going away, although we’re not going to see as severe disease for much longer.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to let people who are positive with Covid go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold. And so, at some point, we’ve got to relax this.
“If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet.”
NHS workers off sick or isolating because of Covid are rising by nearly 1,000 a day.
Some 18,829 NHS staff at acute trusts were absent due to Covid on December 19, with London the worst hit.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, dismissed the suggestion as “foolish” for health workers.
He told the BBC: “That clearly won’t apply and shouldn’t apply to people who work inside the NHS, and it would seem to me to be very foolish to suggest that.
“What’s helpfully happened is that we have reduced the self-isolation period from 10 down to seven if you do two lateral flow tests and prove negative.
“But in terms of NHS staff, it’s vital that we protect the patients who are inside our hospitals, inside our healthcare settings, and that we protect them from infection, because we know that potentially they’re very, very vulnerable.
“As for the wider society, clearly that is something that we need to look at.”
Prof Hunter said Covid will eventually be regarded as a cause of the common cold and will not warrant the reporting of daily case numbers.
He said: “Covid is only one virus of a family of coronaviruses, and the other coronaviruses throw off new variants typically every year or so, and that’s almost certainly what’s going to happen with Covid – it will become effectively just another cause of the common cold.
“We’re not going to be doing daily reporting on cases of the different causes of the common cold going forward, of which Covid is one.”
He said scrapping isolation requirements for NHS staff could be considered after winter.
He added: “I think it would be unlikely that we are going to do anything like that whilst we’re still coping with Omicron, but once we’re past Easter, perhaps, then maybe we should start to look at scaling back, depending on, of course, what the disease is at that time.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.