Lifting restrictions too soon can prolong the pandemic and favor the appearance of new mutations.
On June 9, 2020, the rule was published that brought the ephemeral new normal to our country, when the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic seemed like it was going to be the only one. The royal decree-law established the mandatory use of masks outdoors and in closed spaces for public use. The cumulative incidence at the national level was 11.20 cases per 100,000.
This Monday, with an incidence of 151.82 cases, the director of the Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simon, considered that there is little time left to relax this obligation. “It is true that measures outdoors, such as the use of masks, it is very possible that in not many days they can already be reduced,” he indicated at a press conference.
The push of the vaccination campaign in recent weeks has encouraged the lifting of some restrictions, as has already been done in countries such as Israel and the United Kingdom. In the United States, where the use of a mask is not mandatory at the national level, the Centers for Disease Control have recommended that vaccinated people can leave it in both open and closed spaces, with some exceptions such as public transport.
“This is not the time to launch such broad messages of relaxation,” he says. Oscar Zurriaga, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology. Although vaccination coverage is expanding, in order to consider any relaxation in current prevention measures “this coverage has to be homogeneous, and at the moment it is, both by age groups and geographically and socially“.
Zurriaga warns: this situation does not occur in the countries that have opened their hands on this issue and recalls cases such as Chile, which, despite the high percentage of the vaccinated population, is experiencing an uptick in infections like it has not seen before.
Similar opinion is shared by the epidemiologist and professor at the University of Alicante Joseph Tuells. “Lifting the use of masks too soon is not opportune. Cases are declining, but the pandemic is not over.
Both specialists consider that in open environments you can consider a relaxation: where it is allowed to maintain a safe distance, such as the countryside, the beach (if it is not overflowing with people), etc. But this provision is because “it doesn’t make much sense” to keep it in those settings, it doesn’t depend on having been vaccinated or not.
“That only vaccinated people can remove their masks is doubly discriminatory, because those who do not have the vaccine is not because they do not want to and because you also force them to continue wearing a mask. Also, how do you know if you are vaccinated or not?
For Tuells, any type of flexibility can be taken when there is evidence that a high percentage of the population is vaccinated. Óscar Zurriaga, for his part, adds something that seems plausible but is not: that the number of new cases has dropped to a minimum.
“Although with the vaccine the situation has improved, we are stagnant: we did not go up but we did not go down enough in cases either.” And this has the danger that the virus continues to be transmitted, which gives it the opportunity to continue mutating, with the usual risk of the appearance of variants that escape immunity, either the natural or the vaccine.
The obligation to wear a mask, a success
Despite understanding the tiredness of the population and the positive aspects of certain escape routes, the vice president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology calls for an effort until the situation is completely controlled, without half measures, to propose general flexibility, both abroad and in inside.
By lifting restrictions in certain circumstances “we are asking people who are not educated in the matter to assess the risks. It is easier to say that the mask is worn at all times and that’s it.”
There is also the symbolic component of the mask. “It seems that, if we take it off, the pandemic is over and it is not.. The situation is far from the new normal, a year ago we were much better than now. For this reason, he fears that this summer it could happen, saving the distances, what happened the previous one.
Almost a year after it entered our lives on a mandatory basis, no one doubts the effectiveness of the mask. “It has worked quite well”, comments José Tuells. “This year there have been no cases of flu, for example. Its use at certain times of the year and places is not going to disappear”.
Even the WHO, which was reluctant to use it for a long time, has had to rectify it, as with the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by aerosols. “The obligation to wear a mask has been positive,” he concludes.
Mask sales fall
in pharmacies, Sales of masks have already chained two consecutive months of falls. Pharmacy revenues for these products stood at 58.6 million euros in April, compared to 71.4 million euros in March, which means a decrease of 18%.
A decrease in sales of masks that was even greater in March: -24.4%, going from 94.5 million euros in February to 71.4 million in March, according to data provided by the Iqvia consultancy.
Going back to the month of April, this is the third month of the pandemic so far that fewer sales of masks have been registered. The first was in August, when the income of pharmacies for these products was 45.6 million. The second in September, with 56.9 million euros.
As of September of last year, sales of masks in Spanish pharmacies have had an upward trend until March 2021, when revenues have fallen again, although not to the levels of last August.
Although in the last four months of 2020 and the first two of 2021 the sales of these products have increased, the truth is that have not reached the levels recorded in May and June. In these months, pharmacies entered 214.5 and 122.3 million euros, respectively.