Scientists in Yorkshire say mask wearing could be here to stay long past coronavirus pandemic

Mask-wearing in England could be here to stay long after the last case of coronavirus, virologists and public health experts say.

Scientists at Yorkshire universities have told The Yorkshire Post that the act of wearing a face covering in busy public places may even be something the public adopts as a new way of life looking past the pandemic, likening it to a protective measure similar to wearing a car seat belt.

Dr Stephen Griffin, an associate professor of virology at the University of Leeds, also said better ventilation of public indoor spaces was a measure that public health authorities should look to adopt long term.

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"If you ask the question based on a population, rather than an individual, then it's very clear that those wearing any kind of face covering reduces spread, particularly of the droplets, but also, to some extent, aerosols.

Scientists in Yorkshire say mask wearing could be here to stay long past coronavirus pandemic

"The problem is this virus is very, very infectious. It's more infectious than our standard sort of seasonal flu and other respiratory viruses that we've seen. But you may realise that the levels of influenza and other respiratory viruses since lockdown happened - and since we started wearing masks - has dramatically fallen."

"So it's literally a case of every little helps," he said.

"Ventilation and filtering the air, I think, is something that is a much better solution if you think about hospitality venues because you can't wear a mask when you're drinking and eating," he added.

"I think, moving forwards in the longer term, if you want to be prepared for the next pandemic, we need to have Government-led investment in all these sorts of things - including better ventilation."

Scientists in Yorkshire say mask wearing could be here to stay long past the coronavirus pandemic

Dr Andrew Lee is a disease control expert based at Sheffield University who has worked as a consultant for Public Health England and Communicable Disease Control (CDC).

He said: "I think we realise now more so than we did a year ago just how much the spread was linked to airborne transmission. And we didn't have vaccines before, so really the only way you can stop the spread was the use of masks and ventilation."

"In a way, I think mask-wearing is something society should maybe get more used to doing," Dr Lee added.

"It's a hygiene measure. Because remember it's not just coronavirus it protects us from - it also helps protect us against other respiratory diseases like influenza, which is another good example of an airborne spread infection.

Scientists in Yorkshire say mask wearing could be here to stay long past coronavirus pandemic

"When we look across to East Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan - they've been wearing masks for decades. To them, it's a normal prevention measure."

When asked why the act of mask wearing was more commonplace in other countries than others, Dr Lee said, "I guess people don't like being told what to do".

"In a way, we've conflated our freedoms and rights issues with, actually, what is a pretty sensible public health measure. It's like safety belts in cars - we don't think of that as an imposition on our liberties, and mask wearing really isn't any different."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that, while plans for easing mask wearing were not currently on the agenda, this would be reviewed ahead of Step 4 of the easing of restrictions scheduled later this month.

"Social distancing is difficult and damaging for businesses and, as a result, it is important to return to as near to normal as quickly as possible," said the spokeswoman.

"Ahead of Step 4, as more is understood about the impact of vaccines on transmission and a far greater proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission.

"The results of the review will help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on 1m+, face masks and other measures may be lifted. The review will also inform guidance on working from home - people should continue to work from home where they can until this review is complete."

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