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Face masks may not be necessary in summer, says deputy chief medical officer

Kate Ng
·2-min read
Britain's Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries speaks during a virtual news conference with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (not pictured) at 10 Downing Street (REUTERS)
Britain's Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jenny Harries speaks during a virtual news conference with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (not pictured) at 10 Downing Street (REUTERS)

People in the UK may not have to wear face masks during the summer months, but they might be needed again in the autumn and winter - the deputy chief medical officer has said.

Jenny Harries told a Downing Street briefing that the warmer summer months are a “generally much safer period for us, with less need for interventions” on socialising, but said they could not be ruled out as the UK enters the winter period again.

She was responding to a question about whether the use of masks and PPE indoors would continue to be a rule after 21 June, when the government hopes to lift all legal limits on social contact.

Ms Harries said: “One of the things we know, of course, is doing things outside is ever so much safer than doing things inside - ventilation, we know, is really important.

“As we get into the autumn, when winter comes in and we spend more time inside, then again we may be looking at it.

“But 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,” she added.

Ms Harries also said during the briefing that children should avoid hugging their grandparents, even if they have had a Covid vaccine, “until we’re absolutely sure what the impact of the vaccine rollout has been”.

She added: “I’m sure it’s going to be positive, but we just need to take a steady course out through the roadmap.”

Earlier this week, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned that face coverings may be necessary in certain situations next winter, even after all the UK’s adults have been vaccinated.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference in which Boris Johnson unveiled his roadmap out of lockdown, Sir Patrick and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty both made clear they do not expect coronavirus to be completely eradicated from the UK.

But they said they expect the virus to become a manageable problem comparable to winter flu.

Sir Patrick said measures like mask-wearing can be expected to be a “baseline” requirement during winter months, but these would not be imposed on the same scale as during lockdown.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson, who led the briefing on Wednesday, avoided answering a question about whether the prime minister had been wrong about the need for students to wear face masks in classrooms.

Mr Johnson had previously said that children wearing masks in the classroom was “nonsensical”. Asked if he agreed with that, Mr Williamson said the government has “always said we would follow the best scientific, medical and health advice”.

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