Covid-19 may never die out and millions of people infected during the current may be left with serious health conditions, a world-leading infectious disease expert has said.

Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), fears that coronavirus could become an endemic disease - an illness that is always present in the population. 

He also warned that a vaccine may never be found.

Prof Piot, 71, was hospitalised with the virus on April 1 and is still recovering over a month later after battling bacterial pneumonia, a common side effect.

Speaking on the LSHTM Viral podcast on Thursday, Prof Piot said: “We will need to reverse our thinking about this epidemic … this is going to be about our societies living with Covid-19.

“It could become endemic, it could become part of our human condition.

“Even if we find a vaccine, eliminating this virus is quite a challenge. We only have one infection which has been eliminated for humans, and that’s smallpox.

“So, we need to start taking a longer-term perspective and that means a far more nuanced approach to control, rather than the bulldozer approach that we have been adapting now.”

Prof Piot, who was was recently appointed Covid-19 special adviser to the President of the European Commission, said: “We will see hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people with problems with their kidneys, with their hearts.

“I had arterial fibrillation, I’m now on anti-coagulants, which I never dreamed I would have to take.

“And that has major implications for health services, for people, and for economies.”

Prof Piot, who has studied Aids and HIV for decades and helped discover Ebola in 1976, said a vaccine would be “the only real exit strategy,” and experts are likely to know by the end of the year whether one can be found.

“The problem is that we don’t know whether a vaccine is possible,” he said.

“We have been working since 1984 trying to develop an HIV vaccine and tens of billions of pounds have been invested, and we still don’t have one.

“The (coronavirus) vaccine will have to be absolutely safe because it will have to be given to billions of people.

“Even if only 0.0001 percent develop some serious adverse complication, that’s a lot of people.

“And let’s assume we have a vaccine, we need to make sure we can produce billions of those, we need maybe seven billion of those – that’s never been done before. We need to make sure the manufacturing capacity is there.”

Prof Piot said the UK urgently needs to be better prepared for future viruses, adding: “I am convinced there will be more coming.

“I hope the lesson will really be that we can’t afford to recreate the fire brigade when the house is on fire, we need the fire brigade ready all the time, hoping that it never has to be deployed.”

Experts at LSHTM are involved in researching Covid-19 and provide evidence to inform the global response.