Dr Lincoln Sargeant, Director of Public Health for North Yorkshire, warned it could be that the virus is one the population has to live with long-term.
He said how the virus reacts when winter comes will be key.
“What happens with this virus over the winter is going to be really interesting,” he said.
“It comes from a family of viruses that surge in winter. I’ve said to people I want to see two winters, and then I can breathe.
“Initially our plan is certainly 12 to 18 months as how we deal with this in the next phase and then we will see what the virus does in the long term.
“We live with other dangerous things. People forget about tuberculosis. Yes we have some treatment but it is a very nasty infection that we live with, we co-exist.
“The other thing that could be a game changer with Covid-19 is if we get a vaccine. That changes the response to some extent.
“If we do not get a vaccine then we will have to do this cautiously - look for infections, look for localised outbreaks, deal with them aggressively and that will be business as usual I think for at least the next 12 to 18 months.”
Dr Sargeant was speaking at an online meeting with other North Yorkshire leaders giving updates on the county’s response to coronavirus.
He said the lockdown had provided the opportunity to track the number of cases.
“What has happened with the lockdown is that has allowed us to reset the situation in the UK back to where it was at the beginning of March,” he said.
“The numbers across the UK have come down to the levels where it is now possible to identify any new case, rapidly identify the people they have been in contact with and essentially pull them out of the general circulation so that they then do not pass that infection on to others.”
Going forward, he said if several cases are found in one setting, such as a care home, Public Health would try to implement “a mini lockdown” to prevent any further spread.
If there was a spike in a particular town or area, he added, and they had to restrict movement in and out of that area for between 14 and 28 days, there would be challenges, such as how to police visitors.