The rapid spread of the Omicron variant, combined with the roll-out of up to 20 billion doses of vaccine, means the COVID-19 pandemic could be over this year, according to one of the world's leading public health experts.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and former SAGE advisor, was speaking to Sky News ahead of Boris Johnson announcing he would be lifting plan B measures in England.

"The UK in particular and some other countries are in a very, very strong position now.

However, Sir Jeremy said that the rest of the world remains in a "pretty dire situation" due to lower vaccination rates and the rapid spread of the variant.

While that is causing surges in mortality, the emerging data, even from countries with low vaccination coverage, is that the Omicron wave is less deadly than previous ones.

He said that any new variant would need to "out-compete Omicron" through increased transmissibility or escape from immunity, and not through changes in severity.

Sir Jeremy said that increasing availability of vaccines around the world – with a goal of another 20 billion doses becoming available globally in 2022 – must be prioritised.

"if you think there are seven billion people or so in the world, we should now in the first half of 2022, be able to get vaccines to everybody that wants it in every country in the world, and that has got to be our target," said.

The Wellcome Trust and the Gates Foundation have pledged a total of $ 300m ( £221m ) for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which is helping in making coronavirus vaccines more accessible to poorer countries and working on developing more "variant-proof" vaccines to prevent future coronavirus pandemics.

"I would call on everybody, particularly, the Chinese government, to be transparent about the origins "I think we 're very vulnerable at the moment because much of that scientific cooperation with China, but more broadly, has stopped."

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been predictions about the future of Covid-19.

It is not possible to say whether they ( and other preventative measures ) will be needed once Covid become endemic – that will depend on how serious the disease is – but the Government knows they can rely on them if needed.

The tools for living with endemic Covid-19 are available.

So, as the UK government relaxes Covid measures again, we hope that one day soon we might be able to refer to Covid-19 as just another common cold.

The UK is in a strong position in the fight against Covid due to successful vaccine rollouts and high degrees of natural immunity, a health expert has said.

Mr Johnson said in a statement to the Commons that data suggested the Omicron variant had "peaked nationally".

"I don't think Omicron will be the last variant – this virus remains very plastic; it will continue to evolve and it will continue to change around the world.

"It doesn't do the virus any good to become increasingly severe," he said.

"In fact, it looks like the Omicron variant, by becoming more transmissible, that it's also become less severe, and we would hope that's the general direction of travel."

New data from the Office for National Statistics ( ONS ) is due to be published on Wednesday afternoon which will show the level of infection across the community in people with and without symptoms.

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