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With Covid infection levels increasing and hospitalisations following suit with the rise of the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, some experts have called for a reintroduction of mask-wearing in certain settings, with the chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, Sir Andrew Pollard, saying it would be “sensible” for hospitals to reintroduce the practice.

Here’s what other scientists have to say.

Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine

“The evidence on mask-wearing has grown substantially throughout the course of the pandemic. But also, I think it is not a simple one-size-fits-all … at times of higher prevalence, such as we are right now, they are definitely a good action to both protect you and to protect others. I think, within healthcare settings in particular, the current guidance, as I understand it from NHS England, sets out that masks should be worn for all patient interactions. But they’re not necessarily to be worn outside all patient interactions in offices, in non-clinical areas.

“My view remains that if you are in a crowded indoor place with people that you don’t know, and you’re not testing regularly, masks have an additional benefit – but you need to take and review those risks at an individual level outside the workplace. In the NHS, the decisions on that for each NHS organisation are made at that NHS organisational level and can take in a variety of factors such as the community prevalence, the number of infections they’ve seen in their healthcare workers, and they can turn on and off that intervention locally according to all of those factors. I think that is the right approach.”

Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London and member of the Independent Sage group of experts

“I’ve never stopped wearing a mask on public transport and in shops. I now also wear one during face-to-face meetings at work and would if I was going to the cinema, theatre, etc. However, I have chosen to restrict my social activities or meet outside wherever possible during these weeks of very high levels of infection. Many will not be able to restrict their contacts, so a well-fitting, high-quality mask (FFP2/FFP3) is even more important to try to reduce their chance of catching Covid or of spreading it.”

John Edmunds, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and also a member of the Independent Sage group

“I don’t have the answers – however, I do know how to get them. We should take this ‘opportunity’ that the virus has yet again given us to trial out these sorts of interventions: mask-wearing and testing, for instance, in different settings and populations, using rigorous methods and preferably linked to economic analysis. As the incidence is high, it should be relatively easy to assess these interventions quickly now. The data that we collect will help us make better decisions about how to control the virus now and in the future.”

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