Face masks are unlikely to be binned for good, even after lockdown ends, scientists warn.
Today Boris Johnson spelled out his roadmap for easing national restrictions in England – but the government warned not to expect all measures to be scrapped anytime soon.
Scientific papers warn that the UK could still see another 30,000 Covid deaths by June next year, even after all adults are offered the jab.
Regular hand washing, face masks in public places and even rules such as one-way systems in busy spots could still be needed to keep Covid at bay.
The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), a SAGE subgroup, says that “maintaining baseline measures” will still be necessary even as life returns to normal.
At the moment it is mandatory for everyone over the age of 11 to wear face coverings in indoor public places, unless they have a medical exemption.
The roadmap published today admits: “Some measures may be required even after all adults have been offered a vaccine, because neither coverage nor effectiveness of the vaccine will be 100 per cent.
“As a result, a significant proportion of the population will remain vulnerable to infection, some of whom will also be vulnerable to severe disease and death.”
In a speech to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said that no vaccine would be 100 per cent effective in wiping out Covid.
Instead, he warned, measures are likely to be needed to prevent the virus continuing to spread.
The scientific papers repeatedly talk about “maintaining baseline measures” to cut transmission – even once all lockdown rules have ended.
These could include mask wearing, hand hygiene, and “COVID security” – things like one-way systems in pubs or screens in shop counters.
Scientists from Imperial College said it will be “vital to emphasise the importance of normalising and ensuring adherence to all measures even after “full lifting” is achieved.”
SPI-M added: “Maintaining baseline measures to reduce transmission once restrictions are lifted is almost certain to save many lives and minimise the threat to hospital capacity.
“These could include voluntary measures as well as effective Test, Trace and Isolate.”
Imperial suggested some measures may have to “remain in place (and adhered to) throughout 2021 and beyond”.
Professor Angela McClean, deputy Chief Scientific Advisor, said: “It’s the fact there remain people who are either not vaccinated or even though these vaccines are absolutely fantastic they are not perfect.
“So there are people who have been vaccinated who are never the less not protected, even from very severe disease.
“And if we let a big epidemic happen amongst younger people, some of those older vulnerable people, or people who are vulnerable for another reason, will get infected and will be very ill.”
Sir Patrick Vallance told journalists “a large number of people in the population remain unprotected” even with high take-up.
The Chief Scientific Advisor added: “Let’s say 80% of people are adults, so 20% of people are not being vaccinated even if you got to all of the adults, and you get roughly an 80% vaccine efficacy, and that gives roughly 80% protection – you’ve got roughly 50% across the whole population.
“That tells you that even at quite high levels of coverage and protection, you’ve still got a large number of people who are unprotected.”