Face masks should continue ‘forever’ to fight other diseases, says Sage scientist

Social distancing suggested for flu season

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 11 June 2021 08:55 BST

Face masks and some social distancing measures should continue "forever", a top scientist on the Sage committee that advises the government has said.

Professor Susan Michie said some measures adopted to tackle Covid-19 might be useful for suppressing other viruses like flu.

Likening wearing a mask to wearing a seat belt the UCL professor said people might check they had one with them before leaving the house and that it would not be a "huge big deal".

The government plans to end all legal restrictions on coronavirus on 21 June under its Covid roadmap, though the date is subject to debate and could be extended.

“I think there's lots of different behaviours we’ve changed in our lives. We now routinely wear seat belts, we didn’t use to," Professor Michie said.

“We now routinely pick up dog poo in the parks, we didn’t use to. When people see that there is a threat and there is something they can do to reduce that... [to] themselves, their loved ones and their communities, what we see now over this last year is people do that.”

She told Channel 5: “That is the behaviour of social distancing, of when you're indoors, making sure there's good ventilation or if it's not, wearing face masks, of hands and surface hygiene. We will need to keep this going in the long term and that will be good not only for Covid, but also to reduce others diseases”.

Asked how long she thought measures might continue, she said: “I think forever, to some extent.”

Elsewhere, doctors at the clinical practice for the prestigious Yale School of Medicine have suggested that masks could be worn during the annual flu season.

“Now that we’ve lived through this... we know how easy it is... to wear a mask. We’ve learned that this is doable," Dr Sheela Shenoi a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist said in an article for the practice.

Voluntary mask wearing has been relatively common on public transport in some east Asian countries since the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Boris Johnson is set to announce on Monday whether the 21 June date on the roadmap will be kept. It has been reported that ministers are considering a four-week delay, but the issue is hotly contested and Downing Street has said the decision will be based on the data.

Some Tories fear a backlash from their supporters if they do not proceed with the unlocking, despite fears that the new more virulent Delta variant is spreading.

But polls suggest public opinion is relatively supportive of a delay while the vaccine programme progresses.

Speaking on Friday morning vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government was being "really careful".

"There has been some really hard won battles against this virus and we don't want to squander those hard fought gains that we have made through the vaccination programme," he told Times Radio Breakfast.

"In saying that, the virus hasn't gone away, the virus will continue to attempt to mutate, to escape, to try and survive, and I think it's really important that we are really careful."

And he insisted that there were adequate supplies of the Pfizer vaccine to meet government inoculation goals, despite reports of a squeeze on supply.

Asked if supply was going to be "tight" in the next few weeks, he told LBC Radio: "It will be, there is no doubt. Every time I've come on your show I've said that the determining factor in terms of vaccine in arms is supply.

"And supply remains finite, but it is stable, and Pfizer have done a great job in being consistent on their delivery schedule."

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