Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Hannah Miller
Scientists and advisers to the government appear less certain than ministers that it is time to cast masks aside once coronavirus restrictions are ended in England.
Ministers are suggesting that come July 19, the wearing of masks in most social settings will be a matter of personal choice.
However, members of the scientific and medical community are more cautious this is the right move.
Professor Adam Finn, from the Government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said he will continue to wear a face mask “indefinitely” despite plans to end enforced mask wearing.
He told Sky News’ Trevor 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 in 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.”
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick has said he, for one, is looking forward to putting his mask away.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which provides modelling evidence to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said July 19 is “probably the right time” to consider ending the wearing of face masks.
He told BBC Breakfast: “It’s an interesting one. If we are going to do that I think probably this is the right time to consider that.
“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,” he said.
Meanwhile, many people may continue to wear face masks even if they are no longer mandatory, a GP said.
Dr Ellie Cannon told 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 July 19 if the mandate is lifted.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say to me, who travel on the bus or the London Underground particularly in the winter, that they would absolutely put on a face mask, particularly in the winter because we all get used to having these coughs and colds and flu and if you can do something very simple to prevent that, why wouldn’t you?”
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that keeping some protective measures in place was “crucial” to stop spiralling cases numbers having a “devastating impact” on people’s health, the NHS, the economy and education.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said he believed people would naturally be more cautious and 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.”