Even as the government ramps up its coronavirus vaccination efforts, Canadians may have a long way to go before they can completely bid goodbye to masks.
As we close in on a year of the pandemic, personal and public health measures such as “physical distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing” will continue to be important and “may be part of our lives for some time,” Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said during a press conference Wednesday.
According to Reuters interviews with 18 specialists who have closely tracked the pandemic or are working to curb its impact, a new consensus is rapidly emerging among scientists.
While many described how the breakthrough late last year of two vaccines with around 95 per cent efficacy against COVID-19 had initially sparked hope that the virus could be largely contained, data in recent weeks on new variants from South Africa and Brazil has undercut that optimism.
They now believe that SARS-CoV-2 will not only remain with us as an endemic virus, continuing to circulate in communities, but will also likely cause a significant burden of illness and death for years to come.
As a result, the scientists said, people could expect to continue to take measures such as routine mask-wearing and avoiding crowded places during COVID-19 surges, especially for people at high risk.
Even after vaccination, “I still would want to wear a mask if there was a variant out there,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, recently said in an interview.
“All you need is one little flick of a variant (sparking) another surge, and there goes your prediction” about when life gets back to normal.
Earlier, Fauci had also suggested wearing two masks.
“So, if you have a physical covering with one layer, if you put another layer on it, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Fauci said.
COVID-19 infection rates may have declined in many countries since the start of 2021, with some dramatic reductions in severe illness and hospitalizations among the first groups of people to be vaccinated, but it has influenced more cautious government statements about when the pandemic will end.
Britain recently said it expects a slow emergence from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, despite having one of the fastest vaccination drives.
Wearing masks in certain circumstances to continue to fend off the coronavirus could still be needed, the British government’s chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance said recently.
“It may be necessary next winter to have things like mask-wearing in certain situations,” he told a news conference.
— With files from Reuters