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Face masks could be ditched by summer as jab success paves way back to ‘normality’

Coronavirus: UK retailer showcase their 'novelty' face masks

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Government advisers are confident that the green light will be given in the next steps on the roadmap out of lockdown as Covid cases are tumbling exactly as predicted. One senior source said there was nothing in the data to throw off course plans to remove social contact limits on June 21. The source said it was likely life will “return much more towards normal” in the coming months.

But there was a warning masks and other measures may be needed next winter if cases 

increase. The general view among scientific advisers is that cases will rise later in the year but any winter spike will be manageable and much smaller than previous waves.

With more than 33.3 million people now vaccinated with a first dose, uptake has exceeded expectations.

The source added that much would depend on the public’s behaviour in the coming months and changing society’s attitude towards illness, so that people stay at home if they have symptoms.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested some people may choose to continue wearing masks after restrictions have been lifted.

Questioned about whether the UK will be largely back to normal by June 21, he told MPs: “I fully expect that there will be some areas of life, without the need for laws, where people will behave more cautiously than previously.

“The wearing of masks is one where, before this pandemic, wearing a mask in public in this country was extremely unusual. I’d imagine some people will wear masks and choose to wear masks for some time to come.

“Our goal is to manage this virus, to manage the pandemic that it’s caused,
like flu.”

Meanwhile, Prof Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, also shared his optimistic view.

He said vaccines appeared “unbelievably successful at preventing severe disease, but also pretty successful in reducing transmission”.

He warned the UK would probably never “say goodbye to the virus” but will learn to live with it in the same way we manage flu. Sir John said: “Will we see another epidemic? I’m hoping that if we keep the population largely vaccinated we won’t see anything like this again.

“Will occasionally people get the disease and get sick from it? Yes is the answer. But it will be at a low level.

“I think things will start to look very much as they did in 2019 before the epidemic.

“There have historically been much worse pandemics.

“The flu pandemic of 1918 followed by a second wave a year or two later killed a great deal more people than this is going to kill, at least as it appears at the moment.

“A few years later everybody was back on the streets, it was all fine. We’re not going to have to wear face masks forever.

“We don’t have to avoid hugging people and doing all the normal social interactions, that is going to be fine.

“I think what’s difficult is the time frame in which that’s going to happen.”

Sir John added that a lot would depend on coming out of lockdown step by step, “without taking our foot off the brake completely”.

He said: “What would be unfortunate is if we rushed into it without controlling the speed at which we get back to normal.

“I’m thinking next autumn we’ll be on the lookout for another wave. We’ll probably get some booster shots.”

The positive assessment came as estimates for England showed one in 610 people had Covid-19 last week as shops, beer gardens and hairdressers threw open their doors for the first time in months.

The figure from the Office for National Statistics was down from one in 480 during the previous week.

Mr Hancock tweeted that the data was “hugely promising and shows that our plan is working”.

He said: “Thank you to everyone playing your part to protect our country from Covid.”

James Naismith, a professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, said the data was “very encouraging”. He added: “It is safe to conclude that the re-opening we have seen this far has not triggered a resurgence.

“The vaccine campaign has clearly had its desired effect, with infection rates lowest in the over-50s.

“The decrease in prevalence in children is good news. The less virus in the UK, the less chance for variants.”

Meanwhile, the estimated R number for England has risen slightly to 0.8-1.0. The epidemic is still believed to be shrinking by between five and one percent daily, with some regional variation.

A further 40 deaths were reported across the UK yesterday, up from 34 last Friday.

Some 2,678 new cases were confirmed, a three percent increase from 2,596 a week ago.

More than 33.3 million people have now received a first dose of a vaccine and 11.6 million have had a second. Two- thirds of people aged 45-49 have now had their first jab.

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