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While government may end restrictions, experts say they won’t ditch face masks

An expert advising the government’s coronavirus (Covid-19) response has said he’ll continue to wear a face mask “indefinitely”. That’s despite reports that there are plans to scrap the measure.

Boris Johnson is understood to be preparing to update the nation on plans for “freedom day” on 19 July. Multiple newspapers have suggested that he believes a host of domestic measures can end on his “terminus date”.

‘Indefinitely’

Professor Adam Finn, from the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said mask wearing can be “extremely valuable”. And he does not plan to ditch his masks this month.

He told Sky NewsTrevor Phillips On Sunday programme:

Well on a personal level I shall certainly be continuing to wear a mask if I’ve got any symptoms or if I’m in an enclosed space with lots of other people for a prolonged period of time, indefinitely in fact.

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Prof Finn explained:

I think we learned, as paediatricians, we learned that we can avoid massive problems with children getting sick in the winter by doing these kind of measures.

We simply didn’t see the epidemics of respiratory viruses last winter that we’ve seen every year throughout my career.

So I actually now completely understand it, whereas I was puzzled before when I saw Asian people on the Tube wearing masks in the pre-pandemic era.

So I think mask wearing is obviously something we’ve learned is extremely valuable to do under certain circumstances. That doesn’t mean I’ll wear a mask all the time but it does mean I will some of the time.

A person wearing a face mask walks past a sign encouraging the use of face coverings outside a cafe in central London
A person wearing a face mask walks past a sign encouraging the use of face coverings outside a cafe in central London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“It’s a very easy win for us to be wearing face masks”
Pressed on whether he would “get rid” of his mask after 19 July if permitted to do so, Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said on the same programme:

I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask. I don’t think a lot of people enjoy doing it.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said he believed people would naturally be more cautious. And he feels they may continue to wear face masks out of choice.

He told Andrew Marr on BBC One:

I think some people will choose to be more cautious. Some people may choose to wear face masks in particular circumstances, such as crowded environments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those habits to reduce infections are a good thing to keep.

Dr Ellie Cannon also said she believes people may continue to wear face masks, telling BBC Breakfast:

It’s a very easy win for us to be wearing face masks, not all the time and not necessarily in the classroom.

But I think particularly popping on a face mask if you are going into hospital to visit a relative, coming to my GP surgery, getting on a bus, I think that’s an easy win.

And I actually think there will be many people who will continue to wear face masks, myself included, even after 19 July if the mandate is lifted.

The right time?

Dr Mike Tildesley is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling. The group provides modelling evidence to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). Tildesley said 19 July is “probably the right time” to consider ending the measure.

He told BBC Breakfast:

I think probably if we are going to remove them, 19th of July when we are seeing really low numbers of hospital admissions and low number of deaths, is probably the right time to consider it

Meanwhile, British Medical Association chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has said that hospitalisations were “increasing at pace”. Although they’re low compared to the rise in cases, twice as many coronavirus patients are in hospital beds and on ventilators than this time last month.

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