MILLIONS of Brits NEED to catch coronavirus so we can develop "herd immunity", one of the country's top scientists has said.
Around 60 per cent of the UK population will need to become infected to prevent another more aggressive outbreak of Covid-19.
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Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific advisor, told Sky News:"We think this virus is likely to be one that comes year on year, becomes like a seasonal virus.
"Communities will become immune to it and that's going to be an important part of controlling this longer term.
"About 60 per cent is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity."
The deadly bug has so far killed 10 people in the UK and infected at least 590 – although experts believe that figure could be actually up to 10,000.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night announced that the country had moved to the "delay" phase.
By pushing the peak of the crisis into warmer months – the hope is it will relieve pressure on an already stretched NHS.
Sir Patrick, who is helping to oversee the government's response to coronavirus, also defended the UK's strategy in dealing with the disease in an interview with the BBC today.
He told Radio 4: "If you suppress something very, very hard when you release those measures it bounces back – and it bounces back at the wrong time.
"So our aim is to try and reduce the peak – broaden the peak – not to suppress it completely.
If you suppress something very, very hard when you release those measures it bounces back
"Also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity as well.
"So more people are immune to this disease so we reduce the transmission at the same time and protect those who are most vulnerable from it."
He added: "What we don't want is everybody getting it in a short period of time so we swamp an overwhelmed NHS services.
"That’s the flattening of the peak. You can’t stop it, so that you should end up with a broader peak.
"During which time you would anticipate more people to get immunity to this and that in itself becomes a protective part of this process.
"And this is quite likely to become an annual seasonal infection."
Asked about whether the virus could mutate and come back in a more dangerous form in the future, Sir Patrick said: "If the virus mutates a lot then you don’t necessarily get immunity to that variety.
"But in general, what you would expect is that in a virus where there’s no particular pressure on it to mutate to become nastier, then the mutations are unlikely to go in that direction, and tend to get a bit milder if anything because for the virus it wants to be more transmissible and less lethal to the person it infects.
"That’s the sort of survival of the virus as it were.
"We will end up with a number of people getting it and they will get immunity and that will be helpful for the overall protection of society.
"At the peak really protecting the elderly and vulnerable."
He also said some of the social distancing measures put in place by the Government, including self-isolating for seven days if symptoms develop, are "actually quite extreme".
His comments come after former health secretary Jeremy Hunt questioned the Government's decision not to cancel large gatherings after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned many more families would "lose loved ones before their time".
Mr Hunt, chair of the House of Commons Health select committee, was asked on BBC Newsnight what he thought about the decision not to cancel large gatherings, and he said: "I think it is surprising and concerning that we're not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage that Italy is at.
"You would have thought that every single thing we do in that four weeks would be designed to slow the spread of people catching the virus."
Mr Hunt said the UK is in a "national emergency" and that many people "will be surprised and concerned" that the UK is not moving sooner.
He said other countries that have taken tougher action appear to have been successful in turning back the tide of the virus.
It comes as France became one of the latest European countries to close all schools, universities and nurseries, while in the US, all major sport has been suspended and Broadway performances have been stopped for a month.
On Thursday, Ireland announced the closure of all schools and childcare facilities and other public spaces such as museums, while Scotland banned gatherings of more than 500 people.
The UK Government said it would not move to close schools yet as the evidence for its effectiveness is lacking, though this will be kept under review.
Sir Patrick said school closures now would see educational establishments shut down for "many months".
He told LBC: "Because of the nature of this disease and the way it spreads and its duration, we would have to close schools for many months, not just a few weeks.
"Schools would need to be shut for a very prolonged period.
"Children, of course, aren't going to separate for long periods, they are going to go and do other things together.
"And they may go and stay with grandma, one of those in the most vulnerable group."
Protect the elderly
Mr Johnson has said the latest Government approach is aimed at protecting the elderly and those most vulnerable to the disease, but said precautions would mean severe disruption across the country "for many months".
Between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the UK are thought to be infected with Covid-19 already.
Mr Johnson told reporters at a press conference on Thursday: "We've all got to be clear: this is the worst public health crisis for a generation.
"It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."
He said that people with even mild coronavirus symptoms, including a continuous cough or high temperature, must stay at home for at least seven days.
School trips abroad should be stopped, people over 70 with serious medical conditions are being told not to go on cruises, and officials warned the advice is likely to develop so that entire households could be told to self-isolate.
Sir Patrick said it is "eye-catching" to order the cancellation of mass gatherings and sporting events but that the chances of contracting the disease by attending such occasions are slim.
He told the BBC: "Mass gatherings do have some impact, it is not that they don't do anything if you stop them.
"But they are very much more minor than the other ones.
"The most likely place you are going to get an infection from is a family member, a friend, someone very close in a small space, not in the big space."
High-profile people to be diagnosed with Covid-19 include Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta and BT boss Philip Jansen.
Chelsea's full squad has also gone into self-isolation after winger Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive for coronavirus.
Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, has tested positive for Covid-19 and the couple are in isolation.
Mr Trudeau's office said he is feeling well and will continue to work.
A spokesman for the Cabinet minister told the PA news agency that International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has tested negative for coronavirus.
She was tested on Thursday and will now remain at home.
England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the peak of the outbreak is most likely still 10 to 14 weeks away.
He said it is feared people will become "fatigued" by more stringent measures if they are brought in too soon and therefore they would lose their maximum effect.
The number of people who have tested positive for the virus in the UK rose to 596 while the death toll in British hospitals is 10, while the FTSE 100 closed down by more than 10% on Thursday as fears over Covid-19 sparked the index's worst bloodbath since 1987, while markets fell in Asia on Friday.
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