The government in England recently announced lifting of plan B measures amidst ongoing Covid-19 cases, that makes mask wearing not mandatory, dropping of work from home and no requirement by law of showing of COVID vaccination pass to attend public events. Is it justified, in the absence of any evidences that supports not wearing of masks? More importantly, with approx. 75% of UK population being double vaccinated and rise of the less severe Omicron variant (leading to natural immunity by infection), does it mean the beginning of the end of pandemic?
Recently, there has been a complete U turn of events with respect to COVID-19 protocols in the UK. The government has announced that wearing masks is not compulsory beginning 27th January 2022, although they can be worn in crowded public places, dropping of work from home and no need of showing the COVID vaccination pass1. The rationale behind complete U turn is unclear in the absence of evidences supporting of not wearing the face mask to reduce transmission, in the wake of the new variants of SARS-CoV-2 (Omicron, IHU etc.) that have been infecting the world population at large and had also led to the increase in the number of cases in the UK as well. There may be other COVID-19 variants floating across the world, however, they will not come to light unless sequencing is performed to characterise them. Although Omicron results in less severe disease, there is no guarantee that the other variants existing/non-existing are of similar nature to Omicron or more virulent.
During the initial days of the pandemic, many communications were brought to the public that did not approve of mandatory wearing of face masks, while after the increase in infections and emergence of second wave across the globe, face masks were made mandatory. This was primarily done to reduce the viral transmission across the population and in turn reduce the number of variants getting generated, as higher transmission leads to higher number and possibly more virulent forms of the virus. Doing away with the provision of mandatory use of facemask will mean that the uninfected people will easily contract the virus from the infected people as the virus becomes airborne, spreading through droplets. However, use of face masks has so far helped in reducing the viral transmission2,3.
More infection will lead the virus undergo a large number of passages, thereby leading to different variants that may or may not be virulent to the same degree. This also means that the individuals will gain immunity from natural infection from the virus. Does that mean that the vaccination may no longer be needed? Also, in the wake of all this, is there a need for a booster vaccination dose and more so, a need to develop specific vaccination for the variant, which a number of pharma companies had taken the mandate for.
This news has come from the government amidst and number of 0.4 million cases of COVID-19 that happened today, albeit on the decrease since past few days. According to IHME data, the number of infections in the UK are decreasing daily, since the peak of approx. 1 million infections on 28th Dec 2021. The prediction is that by 1st of April 2022, the number of daily infections will reduce to around 7000 per day4. Does that mean that the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) to the UK government have reached a scientific consensus that we are unaware of, and the infection with Omicron along with approx. three-fourths of double vaccinated people in the UK, signifies the beginning of the end of pandemic? If this is the case, other countries that have achieved 70-75% double vaccination, should follow suit and lift the unnecessary restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 and let the economies flourish and come back to its normal pace sooner than later.
- COVID-19: Mandatory Face Mask Rule to Change in England. Scientific European. Posted 20 January 2022. Available at https://www.scientificeuropean.co.uk/covid-19/covid-19-mandatory-face-mask-rule-to-change-in-england/
- Matuschek C, Moll F, Fangerau H, et al. The history and value of face masks. Eur J Med Res. 2020;25(1):23. Published 2020 Jun 23. doi: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40001-020-00423-4
- WHO 2020. Mask use in the context of COVID-19. Interim guidance. 1 December 2020. Available at https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/advice-on-the-use-of-masks-in-the-community-during-home-care-and-in-healthcare-settings-in-the-context-of-the-novel-coronavirus-(2019-ncov)-outbreak
- COVID-19 Health data – United Kingdom. 20 January 2022. Available at https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-kingdom?view=infections-testing&tab=trend&test=infections