Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown intends to see an end to many rules that have been in place for the past year – including social distancing.
However, scientists at the universities of Cambridge and Liverpool recommend that face coverings – currently compulsory in shops and on public transport – should continue to be used to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The scientists modelled examples of “non-spatial” control measures including face masks, hand washing and social distancing, and “spatial interventions” including lockdown and the restriction of long-distance travel.
Study author Dr Yevhen Suprunenko, a research associate in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, said measures such as wearing face coverings, used properly alongside the vaccine rollout, could help to achieve a better outcome.
He said: “More effective use of control measures like face masks and hand washing would help us to stop the pandemic faster, or to get better results in halting transmission through the vaccination programme.
“This also means we could avoid another potential lockdown.”
Co-author Dr Stephen Cornell from the University of Liverpool said that while lockdowns might have a bigger impact, face masks are cheaper actions people can take.
The government has set out several stages of lockdown easing, which will see the gradual opening of non-essential shops, gyms, restaurants and pubs before the planned ending of all restrictions on 21 June.
On Saturday a group of anti-mask protesters staged a “face-covering free shopping trip” to a Tesco branch in Chelmsford, Essex.
The Department of Health and Social Care guidance states that masks are “largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission".
Watch: How England will leave lockdown