One of Britain’s most senior medical experts has warned the public to expect to be in some form of lockdown until March 2021.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Witty has told the Commons Health and Science Committee there would be a “disastrous” resurgence in COVID-19 cases if people went back to normal life prior to coronavirus.

He is urging members of the public to continue to be on their guard and said it would be “really premature” to stop following social distancing measures.

Although the vaccine roll-out has already begun among the elderly and vulnerable, Professor Witty said not enough people will have been inoculated to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

He said: “For the next three months, I want to be very clear, we will not have sufficient protection. We’re going through the most difficult time of year for respiratory infections and the most difficult time of year for the NHS.

“So, the idea we can suddenly stop now because the vaccine is here, that would be really premature. It would be like someone giving up a marathon race at mile 16 – it would be absolutely the wrong thing to do.”

Professor Witty has also addressed concerns over a new COVID-19 strain that has been detected in the south of England.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference he said he thought it would be “surprising – not impossible – but pretty surprising” if the vaccine did not work on the new strain.

The new variant is being blamed for the rapid spread of infections in the south, which is why Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced plans to put more than 10 million people into Tier 3 restrictions.

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