The proposed traffic light system could lead to options being drained away, the expert warned (Photo: Getty)

Opening overseas trips should be done slowly, the senior scientist warned, because the stoplight system could potentially leak coronavirus variants.

Professor Robin Shattock said that the ideal scenario would be for people to be quarantined on return from any country, but admitted that this is unlikely to be considered a practical option.

The task force set up by Boris Johnson is due to report shortly and many expect it to propose a traffic light approach, classifying countries as red, amber or green depending on the level of infection and prevalence of Covid 19 variants.

Professor Shattock said there are always ways around this kind of system, adding: It can be a way to free yourself from some of the traveling, but it needs to be watched very closely.

He said the ideal scenario would be for people to be quarantined when they arrive from any country, adding: If you opened up travel completely tomorrow and let everyone in and out of the country, we would be in a much worse situation.

So, with all that balance. If you only wanted to take risks, you would keep everything very limited. But it’s not necessarily acceptable or practical.

Professor Robin Shattock said the ideal scenario would be for people to be quarantined when they return from any country (Photo: PA)

According to Professor Shattock, there are still ways around this kind of system (Photo: AFP via Getty).

In an extensive interview, Professor Shattock said it was likely that the coronavirus would become a much more common infection for most people.

He said: Then it’s more about continuing to protect the vulnerable, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Options are always a big ask. But what can be somewhat reassuring is that we don’t see options going in different directions.

What we see with this current coronavirus is that it occurs in different parts of the world with the same mutations, so it seems to converge rather than diverge.

As most viruses evolve, they become more transmissible but less pathogenic, i.e. less likely to cause serious disease.

So there are two possibilities: either the virus becomes less dangerous over time, or there are new variants that we need to catch up with and encourage (with vaccines) in the future.

We will have to wait and see how it goes, but it is not clear that the entire population will have to be vaccinated year after year.

I think this is less likely in future years, although I think older people will need annual vaccinations.

Plus: Coronavirus

Professor Shattock is currently working on variants using self-amplifying RNA vaccine technology, using lower doses of RNA.

Thanks to his technology, vaccines can be adjusted in just a few weeks to account for any fluctuations, although Professor Shattock is keeping an eye on what might happen in future pandemics.

He said: The technology can be adapted very easily to any option that arises….. but we keep a very close eye on anything completely new and we have to be prepared for all eventualities.

On the risk of future pandemics, he said: Of course, we scientifically recognize that this effect is becoming more common.

Covid was a big shock to the world, but somehow making a vaccine for Covid-19 wasn’t as difficult as expected, and that’s a good thing.

If something more complex happens, what we call pandemic X, a totally unknown virus – we know a lot about coronaviruses – but something we have never seen and for which there is no scientific experience, it will pose a much greater threat and challenge to humanity.

Professor Shattock thinks the UK will be ready to administer the booster vaccines this autumn (Photo: AFP via Getty)

As for Covid, it is possible to combine the flu vaccine with the virus vaccine, but it will take time to implement, he said.

For now, he says, the UK is ready to provide booster vaccines this autumn to treat variants of concern, such as those initially identified in South Africa and Brazil.

Professor Shattock said: It is not known whether the variants can circulate if everyone is vaccinated. We really don’t know if it will be a small or a big problem. The operational readiness of the reinforcing variant is logical.

The other thing we don’t know is how long these vaccines protect you – is it 12 months, 24 months? We collect this data in real time.

If the protection is short-lived, vaccines should be ready for use at least this winter. Maybe we do them and they’re not necessary.

Professor Shattock said more data is needed to determine the effectiveness of existing vaccines against the different variants, but that the real question today is whether we should just vaccinate everyone so the variants don’t become a problem.

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