Masks might still need to be worn next winter even if the vaccine has been successfully rolled out, the UK’s chief scientific adviser has said.
Patrick Vallance said he expected life to start “returning towards normal” in the spring.
But he said it would be longer than that before everything was “completely normal” in the way it was before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
“It may be, even with vaccinations, next winter we may need measures like masks and so on still in place,” he told Sky News.
Vallance said this was because it was not clear “how good” the vaccines were and how effective they would be at preventing the transmission of the disease even if they were very effective at protecting those who had actually been given a jab.
But speaking to LBC, Matt Hancock played down the suggestion. Asked if masks would be needed for most of next year, the health secretary said: “I don’t think so.”
He added: “I think that by spring we should be out of the measures, I really hope. I hope that we have a normal summer this summer coming.
“I think people have got used to wearing masks in certain circumstances but I want to get back to living by personal responsibility, rather than by laws that we’ve had to pass through Parliament. Now we can see the route to getting back to that.”
It is not the first time government scientists and ministers have differed over how long face coverings will be needed.
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, last week told a No.10 press conference that mask wearing could “persist for many years”.
But after clarifying that Van-Tam meant the sorts of personal hygiene habits seen in what the prime minister called the “Far East”, Boris Johnson said: “Well, who knows?”
Margaret Keenan, 90, become the first person in the world to receive Pfizer’s Covid-19 jab on Tuesday morning.
The UK is the first country in the world to start using the Pfizer vaccine after regulators approved its use last week.
Under the NHS plan, patients aged 80 and above who are already attending hospital are among the first to receive the vaccine.
Johnson, speaking at the vaccination centre at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday, said people who did not want to have the vaccine were “totally wrong”.
“It’s safe, it’s the right thing to do, it’s good for you and it’s good for the whole country,” the prime minister said.