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Facemasks must continue after lockdown, urge scientists

Wednesday March 31st 2021

The UK should continue to require the use of facemasks after other lockdown restrictions are ended, according to an analysis published today.

The conclusion comes as the UK’s infection rate continues to decline only slowly in spite of widespread protection provided to over-65s by vaccination.

Scientists used mathematical equations to predict how COVID-19 might spread under different control measures after lockdown.

The team, from the Universities of Cambridge and Liverpool, UK, compared the likely outcomes under various combinations of ‘spatial’ control measures such as travel restrictions, which reduce how far virus particles can spread, and ‘non-spatial’ measures such as facemasks, handwashing and one or two metre social distancing, which limit virus particles being spread between people.

The model is published today (31 March) in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Results suggest that non-spatial measures must be widely used as lockdown is eased, even with the ongoing vaccination programme. This approach is necessary to avoid a further lockdown, they believe.

First author Dr Yevhen Suprunenko says: “More effective use of control measures like facemasks and handwashing would help us to stop the pandemic faster, or to get better results in halting transmission through the vaccination programme. This also means we could avoid another potential lockdown."

Co-author Dr Stephen Cornell added: “Measures such as lockdowns that limit how far potentially infected people move can have a stronger impact on controlling the spread of disease, but methods that reduce the risk of transmission whenever people mix provide an inexpensive way to supplement them.”

The team developed the model based on work looking at control strategies for plant diseases. It enables them to gain insights on dealing with newly emerging infectious diseases of plants and animals, as well as future human epidemics.

More than half the population now have antibodies against the COVID-19 virus, according to a new analysis.

The proportion is 54.7% while in Wales it is estimated to be 50.5% and in Northern Ireland 49.3%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In Scotland the proportion with antibodies falls to 42.6%, according to the analysis, based on tests from two weeks ago.

However, analysts warned of reducing antibody rates amongst the oldest people, suggesting the impact of the first dose of the vaccine might be wearing off.

Nevertheless, the researchers found that 90% of over-65s showed antibodies against the virus.

The ONS said weekly death numbers continue to be below average – with 11,666 registered in the week ending 19 March.

The UK yesterday reported 4,040 new cases of infection and 56 new deaths from the virus. It represents a 20% reduction in cases in a week and a halving of numbers of deaths.

Suprunenko, Y. F. et al. Analytical approximation for invasion and endemic thresholds, and the optimal control of epidemics in spatially explicit individual-based models. Journal of The Royal Society Interface 31 March 2021; doi: 10.1098/rsif.2020.0966


Tags: Flu & Viruses | NHS | Respiratory | UK News

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