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Cambridge scientists among those urging public to wear face masks beyond July 19

Cambridge scientists are among those encouraging the continued wearing of face masks beyond the lifting of remaining lockdown restrictions on Monday (July 19).

The Cambridge Independent urged readers last week to continue to wear masks on public transport and in public indoor spaces like shops, even once the legal requirement to do so is lifted on so-called ‘Freedom Day’.

Many studies have shown that masks can significantly reduce transmission
Many studies have shown that masks can significantly reduce transmission

Our call – designed to help reduce transmission of the virus – was backed by Cambridge City Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner.

Prof Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, also agrees.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “My personal view is that we need masks to continue in public enclosed places while case rates are high. The symbolism is also important as while we are in a pandemic there is no ‘back to normal’.”

Prof Ravi Gupta. Picture: Homerton College
Prof Ravi Gupta. Picture: Homerton College

More than 186,000 people have signed a national petition calling for the legal requirement to wear masks in shops to be kept.

And the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors, said there should be an “ongoing requirement” to wear a mask in enclosed public spaces, such as public transport, shops and healthcare settings.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that the lifting of all restrictions will proceed as planned. The government has been accused of mixed messaging, however.

A number of ministers had indicated they intended to ditch their masks last week, but on Monday the government altered its line, saying it did “expect and recommend” the continued use of face masks in crowded areas and on public transport.

In the midst of spiralling Covid case numbers – reaching record levels in some parts of the country – health secretary Sajid Javid urged people to act “with caution and with personal responsibility”.

He told the Commons on Monday: “Everyone should return to work gradually if they are currently working from home; they should try to meet people outside where possible; and it is expected and recommended that people should wear face coverings, unless they are exempt, in crowded indoor settings.”

Wear a mask in shops - and help keep transmission down
Wear a mask in shops - and help keep transmission down

But Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe, national officer for health at the Unite union, said: “What the Prime Minister is doing by his ‘mixed’ messaging is causing confusion to NHS staff and the public. What is needed is clarity in the same way that you know you can’t legally smoke in public places.”

Many scientific studies have shown masks reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

One Royal Society report last summer showed cotton masks cut the odds of infection by 54 per cent in healthcare settings.

Meanwhile, Dr Hisham Ziauddeen, a senior clinical research associate in the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, was one of raft of scientists writing in the Lancet medical journal to say ending all restrictions on July 19 was “dangerous and premature”, given that not everyone had been vaccinated.

They said: “The link between infection and death might have been weakened, but it has not been broken, and infection can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness.”

And they warned: “Unmitigated transmission will disproportionately affect unvaccinated children and young people who have already suffered greatly… high rates of transmission in schools and in children will lead to significant educational disruption.”

They warned the government’s strategy would provide “fertile ground for the emergence of vaccine-resistant variants”, would have “significant impact on health services and exhausted health-care staff” and “disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and marginalised, deepening inequalities”.

“We believe the government is embarking on a dangerous and unethical experiment,” they said. They called for delays in reopening until everyone, including adolescents, had been vaccinated and called for mitigation measures, such as ensuring investment in ventilation and spacing in schools.

They said they backed the World Health Organization advice calling for “universal mask wearing in indoor spaces, even for those vaccinated”.

And the BMJ said the government’s plan to end all restrictions “recklessly exposes millions in the UK to infection when they could be vaccinated”.

This week, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Dr Nik Johnson - an NHS doctor - also urged people to “continue to wear a mask on our buses and trains, and in public spaces” after restrictions ease on July 19.

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Cambridgeshire mayor Dr Nik Johnson calls for those who can to continue to wear masks in public places

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