Speaking on a Royal School of Medicine webinar, Professor Whitty said around 20,000 to 25,000 people died of flu three years ago and “no one noticed”.
Up until now society has chosen to deal with Covid in a certain way but it is “clear we are going to have to manage it,” Professor Whitty said.
He added that it was crucial to bring Covid deaths as low as possible, but cautioned that society would not tolerate being locked down to prevent comparable numbers of deaths to those from flu.
“What are people prepared to put up with?” he said.
“What we’ve demonstrated in the last year is we don’t have to have flu at all if we don’t want to, because the things we’ve done against Covid have led to virtually no influenza.
“If next year we say ‘we can deal with flu, everyone lockdown over the winter’ I think the medical profession would not make itself popular with the general public.”
Asked by Sir Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, whether lockdowns would be reimposed if cases increased, Professor Whitty said: “No, I don’t think so.”
However, he added: “Society will not tolerate more than a certain number of people being ill, even if they know it’s going to go away come the spring, and the area where we’re going to have to pull the alarm cord is if a variant of concern comes in that we can see is now back to a situation of unconstrained growth because the immunological response to it is just not there.”
According to the Telegraph, details of the scheme for safely opening large events will be announced in the coming days.
The paper claims the FA Cup final, an FA Cup semi-final, the League Cup final and the World Snooker Championship will be taking part, with the Brit Awards also in discussions.
People attending events in April will be asked to take a Covid test before entering large events, but it is hoped that by May an updated NHS app will be used.
The app will show whether someone has had a jab, negative, test or has antibodies in what has been described as a vaccine passport.
Government scientists are closely involved in the pilots and will be monitoring crowd flows and ventilation systems.
Ministers are hoping that the events, which will run throughout April and May, will help assess whether reopening large-scale events can take place from as early as mid-June.