By Dominic Harrison, director of public health Blackburn with Darwen Council

ON Monday Boris Johnson will announce a detailed roadmap out of lockdown.

We also expect him to sketch out the roadmap to ‘Pandemic Exit’ over the next 12 months.

It is likely that lockdown will be lifted slowly, starting with schools on March 8. Then, in three week intervals, we will probably open up sector by sector. By the end of June most things may be open. They will probably still be subject to controls similar to those in place last summer.

International travel could be both limited and uncertain, due to the risk of both import and export of new variants. Some travellers may risk of 10 days quarantine on both sides of travel to and from the UK; for others pre-travel testing and vaccine certificates may be required.

As we gradually open up, we may see ‘outbreak flare-ups’ and rising rates in local authority areas with high and enduring risks of Covid-19 transmission. These should dampened down more quickly than last summer and have reduced impacts on hospitalisation and deaths, due to the growing numbers of those vaccinated. We will also have more routine SMART testing with lateral flow devices.

If we get no widespread transmission of new variants with higher transmission or mortality effects and no sustained rises in rates, then a final ‘landing point’ for pandemic exit may be in sight.

By November, we should have all cohorts vaccinated, except those under 16 years. We will still be chasing 10 to 15 per cent of the population who have refused vaccination or been missed.

Covid-19 will be an endemic disease in some communities-with regular, but manageable outbreaks likely for the next 10 years. Across the UK as a whole, Covid may be seen as a ‘circulating winter virus’ generating illness and some early deaths - largely in people in their last year of life, or ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.

Next winter - November 2021 to February 2022 - will see a further smaller spike of cases. Annual Covid mortality could be similar to flu at around 20,000 to 30,000. Excess mortality may be much lower, as Covid is more likely to ‘bring forward deaths’ within the year, and flu deaths may be reduced by continuing infection control measures.

We will then rely on three key strategies into the future.

Firstly, minimal but significant transmission control measures. These will be ‘the new normal’. They will involve wearing masks in enclosed public space, regular sanitising and lateral flow device testing. Secondly, vaccination – a continued focus on the 10 to 15 per cent missing from vaccination and annual boosters or re-vaccinations for everyone. Thirdly, Covid treatment will continue to improve. It will become a ‘normalised disease’ managed alongside all others. Most who get it should survive.

We do need caution and humility in any prediction of ‘what will happen next’. The behaviour of the virus will dictate will the risks to be managed, not professionals or politicians. The story can change quickly and long term predictions inevitably carry a great deal of uncertainty.

From February 2022, life will have changed and we will have survived. From then on, we are just going to need to learn to live with Covid.