Mitigations for the control of SARS-CoV-2 infections

13 July 2021

SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is an airborne respiratory virus which can be transmitted between people in fine droplets that persist in the air. Critically, some COVID-positive individuals can transmit virus when asymptomatic, a key factor in the rapid spread of this virus throughout the world over the past 18 months.

The UK Government has made the decision to lift all mandatory restriction measures in England from 19 July 2021. Given that only just over 50% of the UK population is fully vaccinated, the Government has acknowledged that cases will likely increase to 100,000 a day within the next few weeks. This level of infection is higher than at any stage during the pandemic, and will inevitably lead to increases in hospitalisation and deaths, or long-term health consequences (long COVID). In addition, the high prevalence of virus in the population risks allowing the evolution of new variants with increased transmissibility, and possibly the ability to escape vaccine protection.

In light of these facts, the Council of the Microbiology Society strongly recommends that people (whether vaccinated or awaiting vaccination) continue to adopt the following proven mitigation strategies:

  1. Wearing face masks. These should be worn at all times in indoor public spaces, including schools, shops, transport and hospitality venues. Correctly worn face masks primarily protect other people from infection, but there is also evidence that they can provide a degree of protection for the wearer.
  2. Maintain social distancing. The closer you are to a COVID-positive person the more likely you are to become infected. If it is not possible to maintain social distancing you should try to minimise the time spent in close proximity to others.
  3. Ventilation of indoor spaces. Where possible, ensure that doors and windows are open to provide air movement, or use mechanical ventilation methods.
  4. Enhanced hand hygiene. The virus can remain infectious on some surfaces for up to three days, thus frequent cleansing with hand sanitiser or soap and water will reduce the risk of transmission via this route.

In addition, although the system has limitations, we recommend the continued use of the NHS contact tracing app, and that people continue to self-isolate if requested to do so.  This system has demonstrably saved lives and plays an essential part in the control of virus spread. 

The pandemic is far from over. The recent upsurge in overseas travel also increases the likelihood of the spread of new variants of the virus. In this context, lifting restrictions in England may have wider consequences, not only for the dissemination of variants to other countries, but also for the rapid spread of incoming variants.  

We must maintain restriction measures to protect both the vulnerable in society and the capacity of the NHS, provide further time to increase the vaccination uptake, and reduce the risk of variant emergence.  Otherwise we risk negating the extraordinary progress and sacrifices that this country has made during the pandemic.