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Masks have become such an ingrained part of everyday life that it is now hard to imagine going to the shops and not wearing one. The practice was virtually unseen in Europe prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now nearly every country in Europe has legislation in place for the wearing of them in various public settings.
Face masks have been mandatory throughout the UK in places like shops and other public settings since the start of the summer, as the UK slowly came out of the harshest restrictions.
Research has shown wearing a face mask helps prevent others from contracting the virus if you are infectious, and goes some way toward protecting you from other infectious people.
But the debate around face masks has divided many, with some seeing them as an infringement on their rights, whereas others see them as a helpful tool to keep themselves and other people safe from COVID-19.
Regardless of where you stand in the debate, coronavirus is here to stay for the foreseeable future – and we’ll be needing masks to protect us from it.
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When can we stop wearing masks?
Unfortunately, most experts agree that we won’t be able to stop wearing masks for a considerable length of time, and certainly not in the near future.
According to WebMD, we will only be able to stop wearing masks when one of the following is achieved:
There’s an effective vaccine available (and it’s being utilised widely enough to drastically reduce the number of COVID-19 cases)
We achieve “herd immunity” to COVID-19
We all become naturally immune to the virus
Dr Mark Kortepeter, a physician and biodefense expert, has explained several key reasons why masks are here to stay.
One of the reasons is the difficulty in vaccinated such a huge population worldwide.
He explained: “Individuals in higher-risk groups may be prioritized over others, such that even if you want to get vaccinated, you may not be able to get it immediately.
“Others in your local community may have medical conditions preventing vaccination.
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“Some of the vaccines may require one or more boosters to provide maximum protection, meaning you have to get another shot after a certain period of time.
“But you won’t know where anyone else is in their vaccination schedule, and therefore how well protected they are.
“Therefore, you will still need to protect yourself when around others.”
Another key factor is the effectiveness of any new vaccine, as vaccines do not necessarily have a 100 percent success rate or the ability to block reinfection forever.
Dr Kortepeter explains: “Ideally, the vaccines would provide complete protection from illness and block the person from any risk of transmitting virus; however, the vaccines could also provide a range of protection from illness or only partially reduce the chance of shedding virus in our secretions.
“Therefore, it pays to remain cautious until we know. We have seen asymptomatic spread occur with actual infection, so that remains a possibility after vaccination until we have more data.”
“Because the vaccines are rolling out so quickly, we will not have any data on long-term protection.
“It can take months to years to fully understand the long-term effectiveness of the vaccines.
“Even if you have a good response to the vaccine, only time can tell whether boosters beyond the initial vaccination schedule will be needed to maintain protection.”