No benefit in masks outside or 'three-metre rule', says Jonathan Van-Tam

Danielle Sheridan
·3-min read
People sit at a social distance from one another on a bench on the top of Primrose Hill in London - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP
People sit at a social distance from one another on a bench on the top of Primrose Hill in London - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Face masks outdoors are not necessary, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has said, despite London’s mayor calling for tougher restrictions outside. 

The Government’s deputy chief medical officer said his view “remains” that face coverings only needed to be worn indoors, where the highest risk of transmissions exist. 

Prof Van-Tam said: “The science on masks has changed as the pandemic has evolved. My view remains that the really high-risk environments for transmissions are indoor spaces and the Government advice is to wear masks, face coverings in indoor spaces. And I agree with that and frankly I do that.”

His comments come after Sadiq Khan said both he and the leader of London Councils, Georgia Gould, have written to Boris Johnson "pleading with him to have additional restrictions on our city", after figures showed that more than 10,000 Londoners have now died with Covid-19.

The increased restrictions include making the wearing of face masks mandatory outdoors, as well as closing places of worship.

However, Prof Van-Tam also questioned increasing social distancing, following reports that have suggested Government scientists want the recommended gap increased from one metre, if mitigation measures such as masks or screens are in place, to two metres.

It would mean an increase in distancing from two metres to three metres without mitigation.

Prof Van-Tam told LBC radio that he could not see how droplets containing the virus would gain the extra distance "like in the long jump".

He said: "The question you are asking is whether the new variant is really going to be capable of moving a greater distance, and that doesn't kind of fit with my biological understanding, because the distance relates to the force of the cough or the sneeze or the respiratory droplet that flies out of you.

"Unless we were saying that the variant makes you cough in a different way or cough more violently, I can't see how you can gain that extra distance, like in the long jump as it were."

Earlier this week The Telegraph revealed that the Government was currently discussing expanding the rules on face masks, which could see them become mandatory in some outdoor settings such as supermarket queues, and inside workplaces for those still attending.

Meanwhile, MPs were this week told to wear face masks when they are inside the House of Commons, except when speaking, to further reduce the chance of Covid transmissions.

However, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said coronavirus restrictions should not need toughening as long as people follow the rules. 

Mr Burnham said: "I think there's a difference between what is happening in London and possibly in Greater Manchester.

"I fully understand why Sadiq is saying what he is saying because the increase in cases there in the last few weeks is huge and the pressure on hospitals is even greater than it is here.”

However, Mr Burnham cautioned that while Greater Manchester was in “a different position” currently, “perhaps we're only a couple of weeks behind London and perhaps we'll soon be experiencing something of the same”.