Social distancing to continue into 2021

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Social distancing rules will have to continue into next year, with hopes of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year dashed by England's chief medical officer.

Tens of millions of pounds is being poured into UK trials that start imminently.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed £41 million of additional investment this week 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 UK Covid-19 lockdown.

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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 coronavirus.

"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," he said.

Also on Wednesday, the coordinator of Covid-19 testing appeared to step back from Mr Hancock's promised 100,000 virus tests each day.

Professor 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".

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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.

Health Secretary Matt 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.

He also said a contact tracing app which will alert people if they have been in contact with somebody with the virus and should self-isolate was currently in trials.

The Department of Health said 18,100 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, as of 5pm on Tuesday, up by 763 from 17,337 the day before.

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