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New COVID variants ‘could reinfect people every two to four years', warns professor

Jimmy Nsubuga
·3-min read
PENRITH, ENGLAND - MARCH 25: Charles Hope from Carlisle receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine at the Penrith Auction Mart Vaccination Centre on March 25, 2021 in Penrith, England. Nearly 29 million people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, with more than 2.5 million having received a second dose. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
A scientist has warned new COVID variants ‘could reinfect people every two to four years'. (Getty)

COVID-19 mutations could reinfect people “every two to four years”, a leading expert has warned.

Professor Paul Hunter said we should expect new variants to emerge but they would not necessarily lead to serious illness in patients.

Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it was important we keep an eye on the mutations as “it's been very difficult to predict exactly what will happen with coronaviruses.”

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday: “Many new variants just die out. This is to be expected, we know from other human coronaviruses that have been with us for decades, if not centuries, that these viruses gradually drift."

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 22: A woman speaks with volunteers as they deliver Covid-19 test kits to the doors of residents in a specific postcode near Muswell Hill on March 22, 2021 in London, England. Over the weekend, the Haringey and Barnet borough councils began door-to-door distribution of covid-19 test kits and deployed mobile testing units after a local resident tested positive for the P1 coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil. A recent study from the University of Oxford indicates that the P1 variant may not be as resistant to vaccines as first feared. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Surge testing in north London. (Getty)

Prof Hunter added: “Ultimately with the other human coronaviruses, we expect to get reinfected on average about every two to four years with the same virus.

“So we are likely to see that happen with coronavirus, and it doesn't mean that we will head towards a lot of very severe diseases.

“But it's been very difficult to predict exactly what will happen with coronaviruses as you never really know what each new variant will do and we do have to keep an eye on them and make sure they're not going to be undermining the roadmap.”

The UK has so far used surge testing to isolate cases of new variants, including Brazil and South African strains.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has said booster shots designed to fight new variants of the coronavirus should be ready for distribution to people over 70 by September.

He told the Daily Telegraph newspaper the government is expecting up to eight different shots to be available by the autumn.

Zahawi said booster shots would be given first to the frontline health workers, the elderly and people with severe health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Watch: PM says road map to freedom is on track

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said nothing in current data would hamper the road map to releasing lockdown.

Speaking at the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum on Saturday, he said: “In just a few days’ time, I’m finally going to be able to go to the barbers.

“But more important than that, I’m going to be able to go down the street and cautiously, but irreversibly, I’m going to drink a pint of beer in the pub.

“And as things stand, I can see absolutely nothing in the data to dissuade me from continuing along our road map to freedom, unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.”

While much of Europe is seeing a new surge in the pandemic, Britain is counting on a rapid mass-vaccination program to help it end lockdown and curb Europe’s coronavirus outbreak.

Almost 30 million people in the UK, accounting for 55% of all adults, have received the first vaccine dose.

The UK has recorded more than 126,000 confirmed deaths.

Watch: How England will leave lockdown