New guidelines revealed as early as this weekend may see Brits asked to wear face masks or any material covering their face in shops, at work or when travelling in public transport until next year.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed £41m for vaccine research taking place at Oxford University and Imperial College London, with Oxford given the green light to start human trials on Thursday.
But Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, poured cold water on hopes that an impending vaccine could be the way out of the Covid-19 lockdown.
He told reporters at the daily Downing Street press briefing that some social distancing measures would need to stay in place until there was a vaccine or drug which reduced the severity of Covid-19.
He said: “Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that, we’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.”
Also on Wednesday, the coordinator of Covid-19 testing appeared to step back from Mr Hancock’s promised 100,000 virus tests each day.
Prof John Newton told ITV’s Peston programme the Government was confident that only “if there are enough people who need testing then we will hit our target”.
Meanwhile, First Secretary of State Dominic Raab told reporters there was “light at the end of the tunnel” after it was confirmed the UK had reached the peak of infections.
The lockdown measures are due to next be reviewed on May 7.
Mr Hancock told the Commons he was preparing to ramp up contact tracing on a “large scale” as a way of keeping the virus under control once lockdown measures are eased.
The Government, along with the Office for National Statistics, has announced that 20,000 households in England are being contacted to take part in the first wave of the research designed to understand how the deadly bug has spread across the country, with initial findings expected in early May.
All participants will provide a nose and throat swab to test for whether or not they currently have the virus, while adults in some 1,000 of the households will provide a blood sample to find out what proportion of the population has developed antibodies to Covid-19.
In the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Hancock said he was confident the country was at the peak of the outbreak but stressed that continued social distancing was currently needed to bring the number of new cases down.