Adapting to a new normal

We don’t know how long our battle against Coronavirus will go on for. The hunt for a vaccine is on with the whole world united in a common goal. And whilst some of the most promising trials are coming from our own scientists, even these will take time. Progress is being made, and on Thursday we saw the very positive news that an antibody test with 100% accuracy has been approved, giving us the ability to see who has had the virus, not just who has it now.

On Sunday the Prime Minister announced a roadmap for the weeks and months ahead, with more detail published on Monday. The plan sets out how, if the evidence shows it can be done safely, we can slowly start to adapt our country for a world with Covid-19.

This was an important step, giving headteachers a date to prepare for and businesses which were instructed to close some idea of when they might be able to re-open. But these dates are the earliest opportunity a decision will be taken, and ultimately will depend on the circumstances at the time and whether the rate of the infection – the R number - remains below that important ‘1’.

The message to Stay Home as much as possible remains, but as we adapt it will also be necessary to go out more. Children will go to school because that is the best place for them to learn. People will go to work because that’s how we can secure an economic recovery that guarantees jobs in the medium-to-long term, and not just for the next few months. And we can all exercise and be outside more because that is how we can protect our mental health. As we do that though, we must remain vigilant.

The message of Stay Alert means exactly that – being vigilant and mindful of how we can limit the spread of the virus in our daily lives. Everyone has made sacrifices during this period. The toll on communities, unable to celebrate together, unable to grieve together, and unable to see each other has been hard. Staying Alert is how we can start to move past this in a sustainable way.

Some small steps have been taken this week. The first of these is workplaces which closed initially out of precaution can re-open, with Government issuing information on how these places can become Covid-Secure. Guidance specific to different types of workplaces, from offices and factories to warehouses and logistics is available. And we can now all exercise and stay outside more, travelling for it if we need to.

As these steps are taken the scientific community will maintain a laser focus on seeing how the R rate changes. And as I said at the start, the steps outlined by the Prime Minister this week will only be taken if the evidence shows it is the right time to do so.

It remains the case that many of those who fall ill with covid-19 will make a full and speedy recovery, with symptoms being like the flu. But this will not always be the case. By Staying Alert we can limit our own exposure, protecting the NHS, those around us and ultimately, saving lives.