THE DEPUTY chief medical officer for England said the UK is "absolutely" preparing for a second peak of coronavirus despite a "definite and sustained decline" in new cases.

At the daily Downing Street briefing today (May 18) Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the country may not see back of the virus for 'several years'  and had to prepare in case Covid-19 came back in the Autumn and Winter.

Only once there was a vaccine that is “really capable of suppressing disease levels”  will the country be “out of this," Professor Van-Tam said.

“So from that perspective we may have to live, and learn to live, with this virus in the long-term, certainly for many months to come if not several years,” he said.

He said more information was needed on the seasonality of Covid-19.

“One of the things that’s very clear with flu viruses is that they come in our cold winters and the levels of transmission and circulation decline over the summer months.

“The data we have on other coronaviruses we have looked at very carefully, and it’s not clear that these coronaviruses are as seasonal as influenza.

“But there may be an element of seasonality and it may well be that the autumn and winter conditions provide a better environment for the virus to then do its work again.”

Professor Van-Tam told the Downing Street briefing that the testing programme needed to be “bigger and faster”.

“We are sending a clear message as scientists that it needs to be fast and we need to work as hard as we can to improve the timeliness of the testing system as we go along,” he said.

Professor Van-Tam said evidence from Apple Maps searches suggests since the lockdown measures have been relaxed there has been only a “gradual” increase in walking and driving while public transport use has not risen.

He said very few Covid-19 patients experience loss of taste and smell as a lone symptom of the virus.

Asked whether the UK had missed diagnosis of coronavirus by failing to add it to the list of symptoms to watch for until this week, the deputy chief medical officer said: “What I can tell you is from the Public Health England data set, called the FF100 – the first few hundred cases – there are actually 229 cases in there, all laboratory-confirmed Covid, all of whom have been studied in considerable detail and 0.44% reported anosmia on its own as a symptom.

“So, the point about anosmia is it doesn’t always come as the first symptom.

“Even if it does, it is followed by the cough, the fever and many of the other symptoms I have talked about, referring to the WHO definition.

“So you don’t miss those cases.

“The important thing was to work out if this would add any sensitivity to the diagnostic cluster we were using and the answer is that it makes a small – a very small – difference and we have therefore decided to do it.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also spoke at the briefing and said it has been a "challenging time" for people across the country and thanked the public for responding to the "adjustments" made to the lockdown a week ago.

Mr Raab said the UK's priority is still to save lives and preserve livelihoods but he said there were inevitably some risks in easing the restrictions on movement and travel.

He said it was “not sustainable” to keep the lockdown in place “permanently” but that the Government was monitoring the changes it was making.

Mr Raab said: “It is true to say that making any changes inherently comes with some risk of spreading the virus compared with simply staying at home.

“But it is also true that staying in permanent lockdown is itself not sustainable on health grounds or economic grounds.

“That is why we have only eased measures where it can be done with the lowest risk possible.

“That’s also why we are watching the impact of every change we make very closely.”

Mr Raab said the effect on the easing of restrictions will be continually monitored to see if the UK can move to the next phase on June 1, which could see the reopening of schools and some shops.

He said the UK's test, track and trace strategy is vital to doing this and refers to the hiring of 21,000 people, including 7,000 health professionals to help with its roll-out.

The Foreign Secretary also announced that everyone who is aged five or over with symptoms of coronavirus can now be tested. 

Mr Raab said that the NHS app will be ready “in the coming weeks” but could not confirm it would be ready before children start returning to school.

He told the briefing: “In terms of the app, it’s still our intention to roll it out across the country for everyone to use in the weeks ahead, I can’t be any more precise at this stage.

“But, as I’ve said before, we’re making pretty good progress with it.”

He also defended the Government’s record on testing and the app development.

“We are learning all the way as we go through this pandemic, not just on the scientific side but on the innovation that we need to get a grip on it,” he said at the Downing Street briefing.

“We are making good progress on the testing and on the tracing and on the pilot in the Isle of Wight in relation to the app.”