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Masks 'probably won't do any good' after July 19 because not enough people will wear them, top SAGE expert claims

Daily Mail
Daily Mail
Professor Graham Medley claimed that wearing a mask after Freedom Day 'probably won't do any good' because so few people will wear them

Wearing a mask after Freedom Day 'probably won't do any good', one of the Government's top scientific advisers claimed today.

Professor Graham Medley accepted there was still a lack of evidence about how useful masks are but said it was his personal belief they only work when 'everybody' wears one.

From July 19, people in England will no longer be legally required to wear a face covering on public transport or in shops, restaurants and other indoor spaces.

But ministers and scientific advisers are still encouraging people to don a mask in crowded spaces where the risk of Covid is higher.

Professor Medley told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: 'I understand the Government's reluctance to actually mandate it.

'But on the other hand, if it's not mandated it probably won't do any good.'

Professor Medley is the chairman of SAGE's modelling group SPI-M, whose forecasts pointed towards a smaller wave this autumn and gave ministers the confidence to press ahead with the final unlocking.

He added: 'I personally will wear a mask to protect other people. I think it's quite a reasonable thing to do.

'It doesn't have a huge imposition in terms of economic impact or in terms of freedom, and I think there is evidence to suggest it does good, but only if everybody does it.'

'So I think that, without the mandation, then we end up with a situation where even if the majority of people, let's say 70 per cent of people wear a mask, will that actually do any good because of the 30 per cent who don't? I think that is something which still needs to be determined and discussed.'

There is enough evidence to show masks offer at least some protection against catching and spreading Covid but the true extent of this protection is still unknown.
A lab study by Duke University in North Carolina showed that a variety of different face masks reduced the amount of viral droplets expelled into the air. The N95 and surgical masks were found to be much better than various cotton and other cloth coverings but every type was better than none. In the study, a mask wearer repeated the sentence 'Stay healthy, people' five times, after which and researchers used a thermal camera and thermal camera to monitor the amount of droplets released
A similar study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US looked at how efficient each type of covering was at blocking different sized droplets (shown along the bottom). Again, the high-grade N95 mask was shown to collect 100 per cent of droplets except the finest. Surgical masks (orange) and double-layered cloth masks (in lighter blue) performed second best. Gaiter 1-layer represents a single cloth mask


Throughout the pandemic there has been fierce scientific debate about how well the guards work at reducing transmission, despite nearly every country in the world mandating or encouraging their use.

Lab tests and observational studies have shown masks can block infected people from exhaling up to 80 per cent of the virus into the air and also protect wearers from inhaling up to 50 per cent of the particles.

But real-world studies, which involve more scientific rigour, have produced mixed results, with some showing a huge impact on infection rates and others showing virtually none.

Vaccines have been proven to reduce Covid transmission by at least 60 per cent after two doses, but studying the effect of masks is more difficult because there are more variables - including how often a person wears the mask, what type they use and if it fits properly.

A retrospective US trial in Missouri last May looked at two hairdressers who had Covid and interacted with nearly 140 clients over the space of a week. Of the clients who wore masks during their appointment, none caught the virus.

Another real-world study looked at 124 households with a confirmed case of Covid in Beijing last February. It found that, when masks were worn by everyone in communal rooms in the home, transmission was reduced by 79 per cent.

A report published in the Lancet last June found the risk of catching Covid was as low as 3 per cent if people wore masks and properly social distanced from others. The findings were based on 172 studies in 16 countries.

In a Thai study published in November, researchers found that of 1,000 patients contacted through test and trace systems, those who reported always wearing a mask in public were 70 per cent less likely to become infected than those who didn't.

A laboratory experiment by the University of Edinburgh showed that even the most flimsy face coverings reduce the distance Covid particles travel when exhaled by 90 per cent. Despite the findings, scientists still cannot say for certain how effective masks really are.

Professor Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) which advises No10 on the Covid jab rollout, told MailOnline: 'The problem is we don't have many randomised studies.

'Instead we've got observational studies, modelling studies and laboratory studies where findings can be cherry-picked. The randomised trials we do have don't show much benefit [to wearing masks].'

A randomised study known as the 'Danmask' trial, published by scientists at Copenhagen University over winter, found no statistical evidence that they offer any protection whatsoever.

Experts recruited 6,000 volunteers in the spring — before masks were mandatory there — and split the them into two groups, with half wearing masks in public and half not.

Results showed that, after one month, 1.8 per cent of the people wearing masks had been infected with the virus. By comparison, 2.1 per cent of the people in the unmasked group had tested positive for Covid. The difference between the two groups was not found to be statistically significant.

However, the findings from the Danmask study came under scrutiny, with critics pointing out that less than half of participants actually wore masks when they were supposed to.

It also only looked at the benefit of masks on protecting the wearer. Masks are thought to be much better at preventing infected people from passing the disease onto others, which the trial did not look at.

The Copenhagen researchers noted this, writing: 'The findings, however, should not be used to conclude that a recommendation for everyone to wear masks in the community would not be effective in reducing SARS-CoV-2 infections, because the trial did not test the role of masks in source control of SARS-CoV-2 infection.'

Two other real-world studies - in Guinea-Bissau and India - found no evidence that masks significantly reduce Covid transmission.

Oxford University's Professor Carl Heneghan and Dr Tom Jefferson, from the prestigious Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, said following the Danmask study: 'Now we have properly rigorous scientific research we can rely on, the evidence shows wearing masks in the community does not significantly reduce the rates of infection.'

In its recommendations, the World Health Organization concluded that the use of a mask alone 'is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.'

Another Government adviser, Professor Robert Dingwall, said that giving people the flexibility to choose to wear a face mask was 'sensible'.

The sociologist, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, claimed the benefit of mask-wearing had been exaggerated.

He told Sky News today: 'I think the only really sensible advice is to think carefully about whether your personal risk would lead you to think about using face coverings in very crowded situations.

'When I'm thinking of crowded situations, I think things like the London Tube at rush-hour.

'There is a huge difference between the London Underground at 8am and the London Underground at 8pm. And I think we now have the flexibility to adjust to that.

'When I go to the supermarket on a Friday evening or first thing on Saturday morning, it's relatively empty, I'm certainly not going to wear a mask in those situations.

'If it was Christmas Eve and the place was heaving, that might be something to think about. Although, frankly, the benefit of masks is much exaggerated.

'The way in which we focused on that is, I think, another signal of the levels of fear – we're clinging to something which is visible, but doesn't actually achieve very much.'

Throughout the pandemic there has been fierce scientific debate about how well the guards work at reducing transmission, despite nearly every country in the world mandating or encouraging their use.

Wearing a mask will become personal choice instead of a legal requirement when England finally comes out of lockdown on Monday, in a move that has sparked a fresh row about their effectiveness.

Experts told MailOnline they were confident there is 'some' benefit to wearing masks to prevent Covid from spreading — but they admitted to what degree remains unknown because there is a lack of quality evidence.

Cambridge University's Dr Raghib Ali, a clinical epidemiologist, added the vaccines are doing such a good job at reducing transmission that there is now little need for masks to be worn everywhere.

But he said they could still be beneficial in hospitals, care homes and in crowded and poorly ventilated areas like the Tube, adding that a high-grade FFP3 mask would be the best option over a surgical or cloth mask.

Lab tests and observational studies have shown masks can block infected people from exhaling up to 80 per cent of the virus into the air and also protect wearers from inhaling up to 50 per cent of the particles.

But real-world studies, which involve more scientific rigour, have produced mixed results, with some showing a huge impact on infection rates and others showing virtually none.

Boris Johnson last night confirmed most restrictions will be axed on Monday including making face masks mandatory.

But at a gloomy Downing Street press conference insisted caution was vital.

He added: 'I cannot say this powerfully or emphatically enough – this pandemic is not over. This disease coronavirus continues to carry risks for you and for your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday, July 19, to life as it was before Covid.'

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said families should still 'avoid unnecessary meetings' with other households with normal life returning only 'very slowly'.

Mr Johnson called for continued mask-wearing in busy indoor settings such as trains, supermarkets and cinemas.

And he urged firms not to order staff back to their desks despite the lifting of the formal 'work from home guidance'.

The Prime Minister also dropped his claim that the unlocking would be 'irreversible'. Asked whether restrictions could return, he said he hoped they would not but added: 'We must rule nothing out.'

Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said even the limited taste of freedom could prove short-lived.

'Enjoy summer if you can,' he said. 'Winter is coming – and I fear that Covid restrictions will return.'

Mr Johnson said the vaccine programme made next week's unlocking possible by severely weakening the link between cases and deaths.

But he stressed it was vital not to 'tear the pants out of it', adding: 'Because the legal restrictions have come off, it should not be taken as an invitation by everybody to have a great jubilee and freedom from any kind of caution. We don't expect that the whole country will return to their desks as one from Monday

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith warned that 'Freedom Day' was being watered down at the behest of nervous experts. In the Commons, Mr Javid acknowledged there were risks in reopening next week, but said delaying the measures could push cases into the autumn and winter, when the NHS would struggle to cope.

And he said ministers had to consider the costs of keeping restrictions in place, including those to the economy and mental health.

The remaining measures and guidance will be reviewed by September 30 at the latest.

SAGE warns hospital admissions could soar beyond 12,000 a day with 200 people dying if Brits abandon social distancing and pour back into offices

SAGE today signed off on plans to end Covid restrictions in England next week after estimating there will be 10 times fewer deaths and half as many hospital admissions in the third wave compared to previous peaks.

Modelling by the expert group said it was realistic to expect between 100 to 200 daily fatalities and 1,000 to 2,000 hospital admissions at the worst of the current outbreak this autumn, following the unlocking on July 19.

There is a ten-fold lower risk of dying from Covid now than in the second wave and a fourfold lower risk of being admitted to hospital because of the 'vaccine effect' and the fact younger people now make up the bulk of cases.
COVID DEATHS: SAGE modelled five different scenarios after July based on how quickly people stop social distancing and following basic Covid measures. The worst-case scenario (in purple) would see people go back to pre-pandemic normal within a month and could lead to more than 500 deaths per day in October. A more gradual relaxation would see deaths remain in the 100 to 200 range at the peak (shown in light blue, dark blue and red)
DAILY HOSPITALISATIONS: The group expects there to be between 1,000 and 2,000 admissions at the peak this autumn, with its most central estimate shown in light blue. However, the group says its modelling is highly uncertain and depends on how fast people ditch personal precautions. For this reason the confidence intervals suggest there could be more than 3,000 daily admissions

For this reason, the group — whose projections have guided No10 through the pandemic — expects the number of daily deaths to be 'considerably smaller' than the 1,200 recorded in January and anticipates hospital admissions will stay 'well below' the 4,000 in the winter.

The forecasts were revealed as part of a tranche of documents published today and submitted to ministers last week. They will have given No10 the confidence to press ahead with Freedom Day next Monday.

While the central modelling points towards a much smaller epidemic than previously seen, SAGE admitted its calculations were highly uncertain and warned that the crisis could quickly spiral to record levels if people suddenly abandon all personal precautions on July 19.
COVID BED OCCUPANCY: SAGE modelled five scenarios after July based on how quickly people stopped social distancing and dumped other Covid measures. They found under the more pessimistic model when people quickly reverted to pre-pandemic levels of socialising there could be around 18,000 Covid patients in hospitals by September (yellow and purple lines). But in more optimistic scenarios when people were more cautious about socialising, they surged to a high of between 10,000 and 8,000 beds occupied in September
In a worst-case scenario daily hospitalisations could soar beyond 12,000, according to modelling by Imperial College London, headed by 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson, who was instrumental in the initial shutdown last spring. This model assumed that people who are unvaccinated and were previously infected with the Kent variant are still susceptible to catching the Indian strain, which would scupper hopes that Britain can get to herd immunity through a combination of natural infections and vaccinations this winter

This could lead to 4,800 admissions per day in a worst-case scenario. 'The priority should be to avoid a very rapid return to pre-pandemic behaviour which could lead to a peak in hospitalisations similar to, or possibly even higher than, previous peaks,' SAGE concluded. Daily deaths could surpass 500 in this scenario.

According to a model by Imperial College London — headed by 'Professor Lockdown' Neil Ferguson, who was instrumental in the initial shutdown last spring — there could be 12,000 daily admissions if immunity from vaccines and previous infection fades quicker than expected.

His team's gloomiest predictions — based on a whole host of factors that could go wrong in the next few months — also warned of a peak of beyond 25,000 daily hospital admissions and 3,000 deaths.

SAGE said that the slower Britons return to normal life, the better, and have urged people to keep wearing masks in crowded areas, meet friends outside where possible and isolate if they feel ill or are 'pinged' by the NHS contact tracing app.

The advisory panel has also signed off on the July 19 date because delaying restrictions would only push the peak back into winter, when the NHS will be wrestling with seasonal pressures.

Exactly when the third peak will happen is still not known but the experts believe it will be sometime in August at the earliest. They are bracing for more than 100,000 daily infections - which would dwarf the peak of 60,000 in January - and are expecting cases to stay 'extremely high' all summer.

The group is advising the Government puts 'contingency plans' in place so that restrictions can be quickly rolled back if the NHS starts to buckle under the pressure of an influx of admissions.

Comments / 69


if they probably won't do any good after July 19, that means they won't do any good before July 19 also. just a ploy to see who the sheep are.

April M

I will still be wearing mine ,maybe even 2, and will be staying far away from people who aren't wearing one, and that's still their choice not to wear one if they feel safe that way, we all have Todo what feels right for us


you're right the masks never did much good. they're a placebo to make you feel better. and now it's become a religion.


Comments / 0