FACE masks and indoor restrictions could still be needed next winter to keep the coronavirus at bay, one expert has warned.
The use of face masks and coverings is currently mandatory in all shops and on public transport and Sir Patrick Vallance this morning warned that they could still be in place next winter if we are going to keep Covid infections down.
The government’s chief scientific adviser said we “can’t assume” there wont be any issues next winter when it comes to further Covid-19 infections.
Speaking to Sky News this morning he said: “It’s more likely to be that we wear masks in certain places, that we are continuing with hand washing, making sure that we are sensible about the way in which we interact with people indoors.
“That’s the sort of thing we might anticipate. This virus has taken us by surprises time and time again, we just don’t know.
“I’d be very surprised if we go in year on year with needing to do things more than that, but this coming winter I think we need to wait and see how far we get on with the current reduction in numbers that need to occur.”
He added that if we can bring the number of infections down then we will be in a better position in the summer and therefore we could be in a better position coming into the winter months.
Sir Patrick’s comments come as the UK death toll yesterday saw its biggest rise since the start of the pandemic.
A staggering 1,610 deaths were reported yesterday alongside 33,355 new coronavirus infections.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel also warned this morning that there was a “long way to go” before restrictions could be lifted.
She said: “I should emphasise it is far too early to even speculate as to when lockdown measures will be eased and the restrictions will go. We are still in a perilous situation.
“When we still see hospitalisation figures now standing at over 38,000 people, with the number of people still dying of coronavirus, with the number of hospital admissions still increasing, this is no time to speak about the relaxation of measures and we’re not going to do that publicly yet.
“We have a long way to go which is why you see me out with the police talking about the work we constantly do around compliance and enforcement.”
HOPE ON THE HORIZON
As the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/Astrazeneca jab continue to be rolled out to millions of Brits, Prof Vallance said it would be likely that we would need regular vaccines against Covid for the next few years.
He said: “It’s quite likely those will need to change quite a bit as they do with flu.
“Likely annual or every two years, we don’t know yet. That will be planned like it is for flu as well.
“Coming this winter, a lot will be better because vaccination will be rolled out to very large proportions of society.
“If we can really bring the numbers down now, and with Test & Trace and isolate system in a better place it will lead us to a better place.”
He added that there have been “huge numbers of cases” and said the NHS is still facing “huge pressures”.
“In terms of the number of people that will need vaccinating it’s worth understanding what the vaccine will do.
“It’s an individual protection. We think it will stop transmission but we don’t know how much yet and we will need at least 70 per cent coverage.”
Looking at individual transmission and how people can protect themselves Sir Patrick said face masks are more effective at preventing spread from the person wearing them.
He said they are useful at stopping asymptomatic people spreading the virus to others.
He added: “It’s important and we need to do it and every little counts in terms of making sure that we get on top of this.”
Prof Vallance however said that he couldn’t put a number on how effective they have been.
He said vaccines wont get the numbers under control now but things like mask wearing and hand hygiene would.
This morning professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage said that Sage had failed to recognise the importance of face masks.
He masks was “one area where advisers got it wrong”.
Speaking to Sky News this morning he said: “We didn’t appreciate the importance of masks in protecting other people – we were focused on masks protecting the individual wearer.
“Now we’ve got a better understanding that the virus is effectively airborne in aerosol form, particularly inside, we now understand the value of masks in protecting other people.
“Yes, outside where you have got fresh air, a bit of wind, air movement, some ultraviolet light – under these circumstances, the masks become essentially not as effective because other factors are controlling the virus in the environment.”
Sir Patrick said masks are most useful in indoors environments, he said there is no value in them outside generally if you are just passing someone for a second.
He said they should be worn in outdoor markets where there is crowding.
“The vast majority of people are doing a great job of taking this seriously. We are in this together and we have to make sure we do it.”