Face masks and social distancing measures should continue “forever”, a senior scientist on the Sage committee that advises the Government has said.
Professor Susan Michie on Thursday suggested the measures introduced to tackle the coronavirus pandemic should be retained to help suppress other viruses and boost public health.
The University College London academic, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that advises ministers, said that alongside vaccines, NHS test and trace, and border controls, “people’s behaviour” was a key factor towards controlling the pandemic.
She told Channel 5: “That is the behaviour of social distancing, of when you’re indoors, making sure there’s good ventilation or if it’s not, wearing face masks, of hands and surface hygiene. We will need to keep this going in the long term and that will be good not only for Covid, but also to reduce others diseases at a time when the NHS is -”.
Interrupted by a follow-up questions about how long she thought the measures should continue, the professor of health psychology said: “I think forever, to some extent.”
When should face masks be ditched?
Later asked whether she thought the proposal was realistic, she said: “I think there’s lots of different behaviours we’ve changed in our lives. We now routinely wear seat belts, we didn’t use to.
“We now routinely pick up dog poo in the parks, we didn’t use to. When people see that there is a threat and there is something they can do to reduce that… [to] themselves, their loved ones and their communities, what we see now over this last year is people do that.”
She suggested that in future, people would check they had a facemask on them when they left the house in the same way they made a conscious effort to remember their phone and keys.
“It’s not going to be a huge big deal, the kind of changes we’re talking about,” she said.
Her intervention came as campaigners demanded that the Government allow MPs a vote on any extension to regulations beyond June 21.
Pressure is rising on Boris Johnson ahead of Monday, when he is due to announce whether all remaining Covid regulations will be scrapped seven days later, as he originally planned in his roadmap out of restrictions.
A delay of two weeks is under consideration by ministers, amid a surge in infections fuelled by the spread of the Indian strain.
Legislation underpinning the rules that demand that facemasks be worn on public transport are due to expire on June 20, but could be rolled over by ministers with retrospective parliamentary approval for the move sought later.
Madeleine Stone, legal and policy officer at civil liberties campaign organisation Big Brother Watch, told The Telegraph: “Oversight has been completely lacking over the past 18 months.
These are massive decisions of huge consequence. They need to be voted on in Parliament.”