Coronavirus: Will we still be wearing face masks this time next year?

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
A man in a face mask sits on board a Jubilee line underground train in London during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. (Photo by Aaron Chown/PA Images via Getty Images)
People could be encouraged to continue wearing face masks for the next 12 months, Sage minutes have suggested. (Getty)

From a target end date for England’s lockdown to the priority groups for the second phase of the vaccine rollout, it has been a hectic week of big coronavirus announcements.

One thing we don’t know, however, is how long face masks, a key part of our lives during the pandemic, will continue being mandatory in the likes of shops, hospitality venues and public transport.

On Monday, Boris Johnson announced the government has commissioned a review to “resolve” one of these “key questions”.

Even when masks are no longer compulsory, though, all the noises from the government’s top COVID-19 advisers this week have suggested they could still be a feature of our lives this time next year...

Sage: 'They may be needed throughout winter 2021/22'

Around the same time as Johnson’s lockdown announcement on Monday, minutes from a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting on 11 February emerged.

In the document was an admission face masks could still be a “voluntary” measure against COVID transmission until winter 2021/22.

Watch: Boris Johnson 'very optimistic' all coronavirus restrictions will end in England by 21 June

The minutes read: “Retaining a baseline set of policies to reduce transmission after other restrictions have been lifted would reduce the scale of a resurgence (high confidence).

“A specific set of policies has not been modelled, but could include voluntary measures (e.g. hygiene measures, mask wearing in certain situations, avoiding crowding), environmental measures (e.g. ventilation), and test, trace, and isolate systems.

“These and potentially additional measures may be needed throughout winter 2021/22.”

The plan revealed by Johnson on Monday said 21 June was the earliest date all social distancing measures could be lifted, with businesses allowed to mostly return back to normal.

During his announcement, he did hint that even after that date some measures, like requiring a negative test before going to a theatre might be necessary.

Vallance: 'They may be necessary next winter in certain situations'

Speaking at Downing Street’s coronavirus press conference later that day, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said: “Tony Fauci [president Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser] yesterday said in the US that he thought that things like masks may be needed next winter.

“I think we’re in the same position, that it may be necessary next winter to have things like mask-wearing in certain situations.”

Read more: COVID cases now rising in 1 in 5 areas as Jonathan Van-Tam warns: ‘This is sobering’

Harries: 'Don't rule it out as we go into winter'

Speaking at Wednesday’s Downing Street briefing, Dr Jenny Harries also said “interventions” like masks shouldn’t be “ruled out” in the winter.

She said: “It’s quite possible over summer months, as we did last year when we see rates drop, that we would not need to be wearing masks all that time.

“Summer period is generally, we think, a much safer period for us with less need for interventions, but I think that doesn’t rule it out as we go into winter periods again.”

Watch: How England will leave lockdown