CHRISTMAS will have a “big impact” on how long it takes coronavirus-hit Britain to return to normal, an expert has warned.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, the head of the Oxford Vaccine project, said she hopes Brits can ditch face masks and social distancing in the next six months.
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Appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Prof Gilbert said life could be "more or less" back to normal by next summer – but that depends on transmission rates in January.
Restrictions are due to be relaxed across the UK between December 23 and 27 to allow families to form "Christmas bubbles" and spend time together over the festive period.
But health experts fear that the five-day lockdown 'holiday' could trigger a frenzy of household mixing, prompting a spike in cases in the New Year.
Professor Gilbert claims the nation must not repeat the fatal mistakes of America, which has been hit by rocketing death rates in the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Professor Gilbert said: "I think what we do over the next few weeks is really going to have a big impact on how long it’s going to take to get back to normal.
“Hopefully we could be more or less back to normal by the summer, but that’s not going to be possible if we’re starting from a very bad position in January.”
A significant spike in cases could also harm Britain's vaccination efforts, Professor Gilbert warned.
She added: "It's not possible to run vaccination clinics when staff are off sick, and there's a very high transmission rate affecting people's ability to come to be vaccinated."
Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, boss of NHS Providers which represents hospital trusts, wrote to the PM warning that a festive blow out will see more Brits die.
He said: “The prevailing public perception is ‘thank goodness we can celebrate Christmas’.
“We believe it is vital for the public to understand that any extra social contact, particularly with those who are vulnerable to the effects of the virus, is risky and that they need to think very carefully before initiating such contact over the Christmas period.”
The first review of England's tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday, two weeks after the three-tier system was brought in following the end of lockdown.
But areas should be moved into the highest tier of restrictions "as soon as this is needed, without any delay", according to the letter from NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England.
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