Coronavirus Questions UK: Will there be a vaccine by Christmas?

Q:  If I go a museum in Tier 2 and my friend is also there, can we interact?

A: Millions of Britons are now under Tier 2 restrictions –the second-strictest local coronavirus measures – and the majority of the country is expected to follow by the end of the month.

Under Tier 2, people from different households are no longer able to mix indoors in any setting, including homes, pubs and restaurants.

But indoor businesses and venues, including museums and art galleries, can continue to operate – as long as they can do so in a Covid-secure manner.

This means that multiple households will be in the same indoor setting.

One reader wanted to know whether it was possible to meet a friend at a museum – if they live in an area in Tier One or Tier Two, the answer is no

So, if someone was to run into a friend from another household while walking around an exhibition, would they be able to stop and chat?

The law – as it stands at the moment – says no.

The Health Protection Act states that at events outside a private dwelling, organised by a business, charity or public or political body, people should ‘not mingle with any person who is participating in the gathering but is not a member of the same qualifying group as them’.

The term ‘qualifying group’ refers to members of the same household.

But many would say this definition is confusing, as ‘mingle’ is not a term defined by law.

In September, Home Secretary Priti Patel was pressed on this and she said: ‘Mingling is people coming together. That is my definition of mingling – it’s people coming together.’

Q: Will there be a vaccine by Christmas?

A: Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed NHS staff could get a Covid-19 vaccine before Christmas.

Now there are signs the vaccine may soon be available to the wider public too.

Reports in the week suggest pharmaceutical company Pfizer could be ready to distribute a vaccine by Christmas.

The American firm is currently competing against British and Swedish firm AstraZeneca – developers of the UK vaccine trial – to produce the first drug on the market to stop the virus.

A Covid-19 vaccine might be available by Christmas, though experts say it will not be able to stop the pandemic in its tracks

A Covid-19 vaccine might be available by Christmas, though experts say it will not be able to stop the pandemic in its tracks 

Pfizer said last week it was possible it could file for emergency authorisation of the vaccine in the US by late November if trial data, due soon, reveals favourable results.

If this happened, the drug may be available by Christmas. This would be good news for the UK Government, which has secured supply deals with both Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and has already said it will allow emergency distribution of any vaccine proven to be safe.

But experts warn that developing a Covid-19 vaccine will not stop the virus in its tracks and so won’t necessarily mean the end of the pandemic.

Kate Bingham, head of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, said the first generation of vaccines were ‘likely to be imperfect’.

She added: ‘We should be prepared they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long.’

Q: Could 85,000 people really die from Covid-19 this winter?

A: The UK’s coronavirus death toll has passed 60,000 – and with the seven-day average death toll now standing at about 200, this number is sure to continue rising.

But these numbers pale in comparison to the 85,000 new deaths by the end of March 2021 that was predicted by the Government’s scientific advisory group, SAGE, in a leaked document published last week.

This horrific figure is based on a projection that would see deaths remain above 500 a day for at least three months, peaking at 800 a day.

During the first wave, deaths remained at more than 500 a day for only five weeks, peaking at 1,100.

This ‘worst-case planning scenario’, as it is being called, suggests these huge numbers would occur if the infection rate doubled every two weeks throughout November.

Currently, infections are rising at a quarter of this rate, but this is expected to increase exponentially as more and more people catch the virus. Experts, however, stress this number truly is a pessimistic prediction.

Professor Tim Spector, the epidemiologist behind the Covid Symptom Study app which tracks the Covid symptoms in 4.2 million Britons, says that infections are rising ‘steadily’ and ‘have not spiralled out of control’.

Meanwhile, a steady slowing in infection rates in the North East of England – one of the areas hit earliest by the ‘second wave’ – has given some hope that the strict measures of Tier 3 will be enough to stem the spread.