Pandemic effects to last years, says UK medical chief

2021-03-25 12:06:22

A person walks past closed shops, a year since the first British lockdown began due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, London, Britain, March 23, 2021. [Photo/Agencies] England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty has warned that there will be more spikes in infections and that COVID-19 will cast a "long rain shadow" of social upheaval for years to come. Speaking at a public health event, Whitty tempered optimism brought about by vaccines and the imminent easing of lockdown measures, by painting a sobering picture of what lies ahead as the United Kingdom navigates a path out of the pandemic. "There are going to be lots of bumps and twists on the road from here on in," he said during the UK Public Health Conference 2021. "Variants are going to cause problems and there will be stock-outs of vaccines." Whitty predicted that, while the inoculation program will raise national levels of immunity, the UK will contend with localized flare-ups, including outbreaks at schools and prisons. He also noted that many people who were struggling before the pandemic now find themselves even worse off. "There will be many people who were close to deprivation who will now have been shoved further into it by the effects of lockdown and all of the things we've had to do," he said. Whitty's comments came the day after the British Academy published a report on the long-term societal impacts of the pandemic that forecast a "COVID decade" of social upheaval and widening inequality. "With the advent of vaccines and the imminent ending of lockdowns, we might think that the impact of COVID-19 is coming to an end," the report said. "This would be wrong. We are in a COVID decade: the social, economic and cultural effects of the pandemic will cast a long shadow into the future - perhaps longer than a decade - and the sooner we begin to understand, the better placed we will be to address them." To highlight the scale of rising deprivation in the UK, the British Academy referenced an earlier study from think tank the Legatum Institute, which found that 700,000 more people fell below the poverty line in the UK in 2020, bringing the total to more than 15 million people, or 23 percent of the population. The study used a poverty line set at 54 percent of UK median income, which is a measure established by the UK Social Metrics Commission. "Prior to COVID-19, poverty rates have remained largely unchanged over the last few years," the academy said. "COVID-19 has had significant and unequal effects on access to education, employment prospects and experiences, individual and household incomes." Whitty also said that missed health screenings during lockdowns will lead to the late diagnosis of diseases including cancer, while the mental toll of isolation will also have lasting impact. "For many people, physical or mental wellbeing have been very badly affected by this," he said. "Ranging from increased levels of domestic abuse, loneliness-particularly in older people who felt very much isolated in their areas-physical health, people maybe exercising less, greater amounts of alcohol consumption."