Boris Johnson. (Getty)

  • The UK's current social distancing measures may need to be in place for as long as it takes to find a coronavirus vaccine, according to two new studies from scientists.
  • Two new studies found that Boris Johnson's government risks pushing the rate of transmission too high if social interaction is not severely limited for the foreseeable future.
  • The first study found that social contact would have to be limited to around 5 to 10 people outside the home, workplace, and school.
  • The second study found that a "90 per cent reduction" in social contact compared to usual would be needed to prevent a second peak of infections.
  • It came as Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, warned on Sunday that Britain would not return to "business, as usual, this month.
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The UK's social distancing measures may need to be in place for years, according to two new studies from scientists.

Social contact in the UK may need to be dramatically reduced on a long-term basis, according to scientists who warned that the UK's scope for lifting the lockdown is extremely limited until the discovery of a vaccine.

Two new studies found that Boris Johnson's government risks pushing the rate of transmission too high if social interaction is not severely limited for the foreseeable future.

The studies, published by British academics, explored what would happen to the so-called R rate if the current social distancing measures, which the government introduced in March, were lifted.

The R rate tracks how many people are infected, on average, for every one person who has the disease and keeping it below one is key to preventing a second peak of infections later this summer, scientists say.

A new study by scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and reported by the Telegraph newspaper, found that even in an "optimistic" scenario, social contact would have to be limited to around 5 to 10 people outside the home, workplace, and school.

A second study reported by scientists at the University of Dundee concluded that people resuming more than 10% of their previous social activity would risk a second peak of the virus, the Telegraph reported.

"Lockdown… can barely contain the disease's spread," the authors of the University of Dundee's study wrote.

"Our data is more consistent with a need to adopting a 'new normal' that can provide the optimal balance between allowing economic activity while ensuring very substantial reductions in prior social contacts - 90 per cent reductions according to our best estimates."

It came as Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, warned on Sunday that Britain would not return to "business as usual this month.

He told Sky News: "I don't think we should expect us to go from this situation that we have at the moment of social distancing back to where we were in February - that's clearly not going to happen and I don't think anyone imagines that for one moment.

"The most important thing is that the absolute focus of what the Prime Minister will be announcing later in the week is that what we do going forward doesn't undo the brilliant work people have been doing to get that R number below 1 - the all-critical reproduction rate doesn't come back up because that's when we'd see a second spike.

"So no I'm afraid it is definitely not going to be business as usual but we do want to make sure that people understand where the route map lies."

Shapps confirmed that the government would be piloting a contact-tracing smartphone app this month, which is designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The app will alert people if they have potentially interacted with people infected with the coronavirus.

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